Lest the title of this post mislead anyone, I'll state it upfront: I know of no evidence that corruption of any sort played a role in the saga of Lake Pointe Park Shopping Center, the retail shopping mall that for a few years housed the Hyde Park Co-Op's ill-fated 47th Street Store.
But the Chicago Tribune's front page story detailing the Clinton campaign's effort to tie Barak Obama to Antoin Rezko, alleged south side slumlord and Springfield influence-peddler, got me thinking about just how dicey the world of south side development is. How big the risks are, and how easily the plans go bust. Like they did for the Co-Op.
I don't think Obama's ties to Rezko, who is facing federal indictment, amounted to anything illegal, or even unethical. But if you track the players involved in any of the residential or commercial developments in near south side neighborhoods over the last decade or so, a small set of names and organizations turn up again and again, linked to and including Rezko. It makes you wonder if they should be.
In a conspicuous number of cases, someone running with this small pack gets busted for doing something illegal. Or called by the Trib or Sun-Times for deals that no one can crack, but which come across as suspicious. It seems hard to keep your hands clean in real estate anywhere, and South Side neighborhoods are no exception.
Take one of the partners originally responsible for developing Lake Pointe Park, the Fund For Community Redevelopment and Revitalization, a Woodlawn-based, non-profit community development corporation (CDC) that originally came together with a for-profit developer to build the shopping center at 47th and Lake Park.
During the final agony of the Hyde Park Co-Op, very little media attention was paid to the details of the deal at 47th, who had made how much, and who was still cashing checks from the Co-Op and Certified to pay for an empty store.
The Fund for Community Redevelopment and Revitalization (FCRR) was founded by the prominent civil-rights era activist, Arthur M. Brazier, who together with Leon Finney has founded a number of similar redevelopment funds centered in the Woodlawn area.
As a partner in the Lake Pointe venture, the FCRR was able to obtain a $2,000,000 combined grant from the City of Chicago and HUD, and approximately $1.5 in loans from a national non-profit redevelopment organization to undertake the project at 47th Street in the mid 90s.
While the Lake Pointe Park center neared completion in the late 90s, the FCRR was at the same time hammering out deals with Antoin Rezko's development firm, Rezmar, on a number of south side affordable housing rehabs. To stick only to those deals involving the FCRR, (leaving aside deals between Rezmar and sister organizations of the FCRR also headed by either Brazier or Finney), FCRR signed on with Rezmar in 1997 to rehab affordable housing units on South Ellis and East 46th Street.
In 1998, the FCRR again joined with Rezmar to obtain a $3.8 million loan from the City to redevelop two buildings on South Michigan Avenue, and South Kenwood. Rezmar ceased managing any of these properties when it ran into financial difficulties, while the City foreclosed on several others managed by Rezmar with different CDCs. (Tim Novak, "Rezmar Deals Involving Davis Miner Law Firm." Chicago Sun-Times, April 23, 2007).
A few years later, Allison Davis, a former board member of the FCRR and a founding partner at the prestigious civil rights law firm where Obama worked (Davis Miner Barnhill & Galland), and which handled legal work for projects involving Rezmar, set up his own development deal in Woodlawn on East 63rd Street. The Columbia Pointe mixed-income residential project was initiated with grants from the City for infrastructure, and several parcels of City-owned land were donated to the project. (Tim Novak, "City land for Davis' 2 sons." Chicago Sun-Times, Nov. 11 2007. p. A-16)
Here again, Brazier and Finney show up as backers, together with Vince Lane, former head of the Chicago Housing Authority. In 2001, Vince Lane was found guilty of lying to obtain bank loans to rescue a failing supermarket he had developed at 76th and Racine. Lane was sent to prison for 2 years. (Steve Warmbir, "Ex-CHA Chief Found Guilty of Lying to Banks for $2.5 Million in Loans." Chicago Sun-Times, March 22, 2001, p. 1).
In the Columbia Pointe project, according to Tim Novak at the Sun-Times, Davis sold "the biggest, most expensive house" to his son Jared, for $386,000 in a "mixed-income development project subsidized by Chicago taxpayers." (Novak, "City Land for Davis' 2 Sons")
Just a few months ago, Novak reported that:
Davis and his partners -- including his son Jared and Cullen -- have gotten more than $100 million in taxpayer subsidies to build and rehabilitate more than 1,500 apartments and homes, primarily for the poor. His deals include a massive redevelopment of the Chicago Housing Authority's notorious Stateway Gardens...Davis and his partners have made at least $4 million in development fees over the last decade. (Tim Novak, "How reform-minded City Hall critic bacame a cozy insider." Chicago Sun-Times, Nov. 11, 2007).
It get's confusing fast, and everybody has done deals with everybody. Brazier and Finney have been involved with multiple shady characters. There is money to be made from City and Federal grants to build housing and commercial developments for the poor.
Given the number of these projects that went bad, from Vince Lane's supermarket on 76th and Racine, to Antoin Resko's numerous unheated, below-code, and foreclosed rehab rentals in neighborhoods surrounding Hyde Park, it's not surprising that the Lake Pointe Park shopping center lost its anchor store.
But the fact that the Co-Op was subleasing from Certified, rather than leasing directly from the landlord, is probably why the mall managed to stay afloat at all when the Co-Op went belly-up, and not wind up like Lane's supermarket on 76th -- another casualty of the risky and shady world of south side development.
It also makes me think that Brazier and Finney must have the same amazing knack as Mayor Daley for working on a daily basis among big-time crooks, while somehow managing to keep their hands clean.