Copernicus files lawsuit on sale of Jefferson Park firehouse, seeking “fair” RFP process; foundation offered $300,000 but city planning to sell building for $1
Breaking news … UPDATE: The Copernicus Foundation has “filed suit against the City of Chicago preliminarily enjoining the city from further consideration of any applications for the Fire Station until such time as a Request for Proposal or other disposition procedure is implemented affording all applicants a fair opportunity to compete for the purchase of the Fire Station in conformance with the Municipal Code for the City of Chicago,” according to foundation’s statement. The foundation has offered $300,000 for the former Jefferson Park firehouse at Lipps Avenue and Ainslie Street, near the Jefferson Park CTA Terminal. The city plans to sell the building to a private developer for $1. The city has been negotiating with the developer for about 3 years, but only recently issued a request for alternative proposals, which is required as part of the negotiated sale process. The foundation claims it was denied entry to inspect the firehouse prior to having to submit its proposal. The city several years ago entered directly into a negotiated sale (instead of a “request for proposals”) with the owner of Ambrosia Homes at the recommendation of then-alderman John Arena. Ambrosia’s project has received approvals from several city agencies and commissions, but the City Council has not yet approved the sale.
by BRIAN NADIG
This following is a Sept. 26 article. Please watch for more updates.
The city Department of Housing will likely sell for a buck the former Jefferson Park firehouse, 4837-41 N. Lipps Ave., to Ambrosia Homes after it rejected alternative proposals from the Copernicus Foundation and Carpenters Union Local 58.
“We intend to fight this,” foundation board member Zenon Kurdziel said at a Sept. 15 news conference which the foundation held in front of the 114-year-old firehouse structure. “We don’t understand how you can disqualify a $300,000 offer.” The foundation operates the Copernicus Center, 5216 W. Lawrence Ave.
Kurdziel said that the foundation’s $300,000 bid was “well above” the property’s $208,000 appraised value. The city Department of Planning and Development has argued that the planned sale for $1 to Ambrosia makes sense given the cost of the lead-based paint removal that the building needs.
Kurdziel said that acquiring the firehouse would serve as a natural extension of the Copernicus campus, part of which is located on the same block as the firehouse. Kurdziel, who is the president of Ridgeland Associates, would serve as the project architect for the foundation.
The city didn’t conduct a public request for proposals for the property and instead entered directly into a negotiated sale with Ambrosia several years ago at the recommendation of former 45th Ward alderman John Arena. The negotiated sale process requires that the city advertise for “alternative proposals,” which was done last month.
Kurdziel said that the foundation would have covered the costs of the building’s remediation. He added that the one of the reasons the city rejected its bid was that it did not include a construction timetable, which he said the foundation could have provided if it were allowed access to the building so it could determine how long the project would take.
Representatives of the foundation and union have said that the housing department denied them the ability to inspect the building during the bidding process and that a department official recommended that they not submit bids because a decision already had been made to sell the property to Ambrosia. It is unusual for the city to receive alternative proposals during the negotiated sale process.
A housing department spokesman said that the department did not dissuade any potential bidder from submitting a proposal and that there were no known requests from the union and the foundation to access the building, although the spokesman added that an individual did inquire about accessing the building on behalf of a friend. The spokesman also said that the alternative proposals were incomplete and demonstrated “a lack (of) financing and development experience.”
A Copernicus spokesman responded that the foundation made numerous requests through phone calls and e-mails to gain access to the building. The foundation provided a series of e-mails which show that the city told a project consultant for Copernicus that the building is not safe for the general public to enter and offered to provide interior pictures of the building.
According to the foundation, its bid included a 990 tax filing for the Copernicus Center to demonstrate the foundation’s ability to fund the project. The bid also included a “sources and uses” budget which included the projected rents for the commercial and apartment tenants, foundation officials said.
In response to the department’s statement, Local 58 financial secretary Ian Main said that the union has plenty of development experience, including the building of a 40-story structure in Downtown Chicago and a training center in Elk Grove Village. He added that the firehouse redevelopment would be a relatively small project.
“We’re neighborhood people and trying to take over a neighborhood space,” Main said.
Main also provided a copy of a an e-mail from the department in which the union was denied access to the firehouse, countering the department’s claim that the union did not make a request for access.
Copernicus’s plan calls for a restaurant/brewpub on the ground floor and four apartments on the second floor, while the union planned to relocate its offices to the second floor of the two-story firehouse and to lease out the ground floor. The union’s bid also offered $1 for the property.
Ambrosia plans to lease the ground floor to Lake Effect Brewing, currently at 4727 W. Montrose Ave., and to have nine apartments, some of which would be located on a third-floor addition. The other two proposals call for the firehouse to remain two stories, and under all three proposals the building would go back on to the tax rolls, generating property tax for the city.
The housing department spokesman said that Ambrosia’s plan incorporated input from “the community and historic preservation advocates.” The city has been working with Ambrosia for several years.
The City Council at its Sept. 9 meeting approved a zoning change to accommodate the Ambrosias plan, and the Chicago Plan Commission approved the sale to Ambrosia at its Sept. 17 meeting.
The firehouse has been vacant for about 10 years.