UPTOWN — Months after plans to rapidly change the landscape of the heart of Uptown were approved, the business owners affected by the development say they've been left in the dark about the project.
The 197-unit development, which sailed through multiple committees and City Council in March, features a nine-story, 103-foot tall building in place of the building housing City Sports, Wilson Optical, Family Dollar and Rainbow shops.
"So many people come to my store and ask about the building and I don't have any idea. I'm so sick and tired. We don't know nothing," said Young Sun Park, owner of Expo Beauty inside the City Sports space.
The approval process began in July 2016 with a poorly-attended meeting of the 46th Ward Zoning and Development Committee, which votes on zoning changes and projects costing more than $10 million in the ward.
The committee is composed of more than "30 diverse neighborhood organizations," according to the 46th Ward website, but critics of Ald. James Cappleman (46th) have said the committee is overwhelmingly composed of his supporters who are apt to approve condominium projects but are opposed to low and moderate-income residents.
Cappleman selects the groups to be represented and the groups vote on who their representative is. For a full list of committee members click here.
Twenty-one of the 41 representatives were not present at that meeting, but the project was approved by a 14-5 vote with one member abstaining.
Affordable housing advocates ONE Northside were present at the meeting in July, but their designated "voting member" on the committee was not present and they were not allowed to vote, according to the organization.
On Tuesday, ONE Northside took issue with one of the developers they were able to identify — the president of Praedium Development in suburban Northbrook, George Markopoulos — who has faced several lawsuits in recent years.
"Most notably in 2013, Markopoulos failed to complete a shopping center development after receiving a $950,000 grant from the city of Hammond, Indiana. The city revoked the grant after paying out [nearly] $500,000, but were unable to recover the amount from Markopoulos. One contractor even filed a lawsuit against him in the amount of $270,000 for compensation he never received for his services," said D'Angelo Boyland, an organizer with ONE Northside.
Park's son Landry was also in attendance at that meeting hoping to fight for the opportunity to take over his father's 20-year-old shop. He left disappointed. He was unable to learn more about the owners of the property and what the rent would be for retailers in the new project.
"I was going to take over the business and revamp the store, but with all that's going down there's no reason to plan," he said at the time.
While the project was officially proposed by a group of developers Broadway and Wilson LLC, Tyler Manic, an attorney representing the group would give little information about the their identities. Individually they have been responsible for numerous developments such as grocery stores and strip malls in Chicago and the Chicago area, he said.
Praedium Development Corp./ Woodmar Hammond LLC. purchased the shopping center in May 2005 and Markopoulos is named leasing agent. While he had hoped to open the center by the Christmas season of 2007, the project stalled as he failed to produce a list of tenants agreeing to come to the redeveloped center, according to the Northwest Indiana Times.
After more than four years of delays, work began on the project in 2010 and in March 2012 the city set a June 2012 deadline for the project to be completed. The Hammond Reevelopment commission withheld $450,000 in incentives from the corporation claiming it breached the Woodmar Mall's project agreement and "misrepresented" Markopoulos' ability to finance the project, according to the Northwest Indiana Times.
ONE Northside is asking the developer to enter into a community benefits agreement.
"Uptown does not need a booming commercial corridor and a long standing staple of this community to be converted into an empty lot or unfinished high rise building," said Boyland.
Praedium has no website. No one answered the phone number connected with the firm on Tuesday.
The 46th Ward Office did not answer specific questions about Markopoulos' history or why local business owners have not been updated on the project.
"We don't have any new information," Tressa Feher, chief of staff for Ald. James Cappleman (46th) told DNAinfo Chicago. Feher told Crain's Chicago Business, "We're just waiting for Praedium to say they're ready to start construction."
Rainbow manager Jessica Ayala said they will "probably be the last to know" how the new development will effect retailers.
"We'll just be unemployed. There's no plan because we don't know what's going on. We're just in the dark," she said.
ONE Northside held a press conference outside of City Sports at Wilson Avenue and Broadway Tuesday. [DNAinfo/ Josh McGhee]