Skip to comments.City puts heat on clout-heavy cafe (Unpaid property taxes, scandal, sex, unions, the mob in Chicago)
Posted on 02/11/2005 1:54:40 PM PST by Land_of_Lincoln_John
The Chicago Park District awarded a 20-year lease to run the swanky restaurant at Millennium Park to a businessman who got a top Park District official pregnant during negotiations, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.
What's more, the businessman, Matthew A. O'Malley, lined up a host of investors for the Park Grill that included some of Mayor Daley's friends and neighbors.
On Thursday, after inquiries by the Sun-Times, the Daley administration announced it would force the key players at Park Grill to renegotiate their deal with the Park District.
"They've been essentially told that you must change the terms of this contract or there's a serious chance they can lose that," said Daley spokeswoman Jacquelyn Heard.
Among the investors are Daley's friend Fred Barbara, a nephew of the late mobbed-up Ald. Fred Roti. Barbara has ties to the Hired Truck scandal and the blue bag recycling controversy.
Other investors are relatives of Daley's political adviser Timothy Degnan.
"At this time in Chicago, it's the worst possible time to have names like that when we're trying to clean up the image and impression of clout," Heard said.
"There's nothing illegal. We're not saying there's the existence of clout and influence, but there's an impression of it."
Among the vendors for Park Grill is an architectural metal company owned by the son of Ald. Burton Natarus (42nd).
Other issues raise questions about the deal:
*The Park Grill, which opened 16 months ago, hasn't had to pay any property taxes. The Park District has failed to take the required steps to generate a tax bill for the restaurant. Businesses on public land must pay property taxes.
*While the Park District was negotiating on the Park Grill with O'Malley and his partners, the city was fighting O'Malley to condemn his building about a mile down Michigan Avenue. The city wanted to demolish the building that would become Grace O'Malley's pub. The city dragged O'Malley back to court in December to force him to pay a fine.
*The Park Grill, as part of its deal with the Park District, gets free water, gas and garbage pickup. The garbage pickup costs taxpayers about $245,000 annually.
O'Malley's firm and two others submitted proposals for the restaurant in September 2001.
By the end of the year, O'Malley's team had been selected to run the restaurant, souvenir and concession stands and a cafe in Daley's controversial new park.
The Park District team, including an outside consultant, spent the next 18 months hammering out a contract with O'Malley's company. The restaurant's rent is tied to its gross sales.
Role in deal isn't clear
During that time, Laura Foxgrover, a top official in the Park District department directly overseeing the deal, gave birth to O'Malley's child. The girl was born Sept. 24, 2002.
The O'Malley Park Grill deal was signed Feb. 11, 2003.
It's unclear what role Foxgrover played in the deal.
Former Park District Supt. David Doig said Thursday he could not recall Foxgrover ever recusing herself from the issue because of a conflict. He said he never knew she was carrying O'Malley's baby but would have wanted to know.
"It's important information," Doig said.
Late Thursday, the Park District provided a memo dated May 9, 2002, and addressed to Doig from Foxgrover. In the memo, she recuses herself from negotiations. She does not say why.
James Horan, a key player at the Park Grill, said Foxgrover had nothing to do with the deal. A competitor on the project, Richard Mott, who didn't win the project, said he was aware of Foxgrover's relationship with O'Malley but thought the process was fair.
But another bidder, Clifford Einhorn, expressed surprise when told of the relationship.
O'Malley and Foxgrover, both 36, grew up in the Southwest Side's powerful 19th Ward and have political connections.
O'Malley once worked for the powerful U.S. Rep. Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.), now an ex-con. O'Malley runs the Chicago Firehouse Restaurant, around the corner from the home of Mayor Daley, who has been a steady customer. The restaurant is in an old firehouse bought from the city. O'Malley also has been a business partner with the son of power broker and former Ald. Edward R. Vrdolyak.
Foxgrover is the daughter of former Cook County Circuit Judge Paul Foxgrover. The judge pleaded guilty in 1992 to stealing more than $25,000 in court fines and restitution and was sentenced to six years in prison. Laura Foxgrover has used a politically connected attorney, Martin McNally, as her divorce attorney, records show.
Daley neighbors invest
McNally is a clout-heavy attorney who helped create Environmental Auto Removal, a firm that has the exclusive city towing contract and is now under FBI investigation. McNally is also a former business partner of top mayoral adviser Jeremiah Joyce.
O'Malley's partner in Park Grill is James Horan, a respected restaurant owner and caterer who runs Blue Plate Catering. Blue Plate runs a cafe at Gallery 37, an after-school program created and fostered by Mayor Daley's wife, Maggie Daley.
O'Malley and Horan are the managing partners in Park Grill and have more than 80 investors.
For instance, there are two neighbors of the mayor. Ray Chinn is a clout-heavy O'Hare Airport contractor. Rick Simon is a controversial figure who runs a janitorial business and sits on the board of the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau.
There's former congressman Morgan Murphy, who has had business dealings with convicted labor boss John Serpico.
Investors put up $200,000 for one share of the restaurant, and Anthony Licata, an attorney on the deal, stressed that each person was risking their own money.
"Everyone has signed a notarized statement . . . that they represented they bought in on their own account, not for anyone else," Licata said.
Tune in tomorrow for another thrilling episode of "As the Windy City Blows."
Oh, by the way, owners of the Park Grill: "YOU'RE WELCOME" for the $245K we taxpayers picked up for your garbage bill.
Wow. I guess he just wanted it more.
Seems to me that the role that Foxgover played in the negotiations is very clear..
Mayor Daley is unbelievable. Everyone knows he is corrupt, yet he has no political challengers. Simply brilliant.
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