A Big Hole Mess

By Carol Marin, Don Moseley and Eleni Demertzis
|  Wednesday, Jul 29, 2009  |  Updated 8:47 AM CDT
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HOLE OF A MESS

The "hole" is now in foreclosure and the Zurics and their bank have competing lawsuits over a $2 million dollar debt.

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HOLE OF A MESS

The Adelphi Theatre was demolished in 2006 for what was supposed to be an "attractive development."
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Alderman Joe Moore, best known for trying to ban Foie Gras and big box stores in Chicago, has found himself in a political battle with Rogers Park residents for accepting campaign contributions from developers seeking zoning changes in his 49th ward.

The infamous "hole" is where it all began. It is located at 7070 North Clark Street, where the historic Adelphi Theatre once stood, and was torn down in 2006 for new condominiums.

But the site of the once iconic theatre is now a hole in the ground, with a concrete foundation and steel beams sticking out surrounded by a chain link fence.

Since construction stopped about two years ago the hole has raised questions about money and influence between aldermen and developers. Many Rogers Park residents are not happy.

"I hate the hole in the ground," said Robert Collins, who along with others believes it to be an eyesore.

Craig Gernhardt, a community activist and blogger, has been the loudest voice, with strong opinions directed at Alderman Moore.

"People are paying to get decisions made in the 49th ward," said Gernhardt.

The story of the "hole" dates back to 2005, when the Adelphi Theatre stood mostly vacant and run-down. It was then that developers Chad and Bronco Zuric approached the alderman with plans to tear down the theater and, according to Moore, "replace it with what many believe to be an attractive development."

But before the Zurics could begin construction, they needed something the Moore had to approve: a zoning change.

On June 8th, 2005, the Zurics' company, Golden Hands Construction, gave a $1000 contribution to Alderman Joe Moore. In the fall, Moore voted twice in favor in City Council and the Zurics were granted their zoning change.

Moore said his decision was backed by his ward’s zoning committee.

"I have always made very clear that political donations do not influence my decision," Moore said, when asked about the campaign contributions. And he said the Zurics' donations had no influence.

In 2000, Moore told the Lerner Star Newspaper he would not accept contributions from those with pending zoning issues "to remove any hint of possible influence."

But he said he had to change his position due to the high cost of political campaigns. In total, the Zurics have given Alderman Moore $13,500 in campaign contributions since 2005.

Cindi Canary, head of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, said that because alderman control zoning issues in their wards, contributions follow. She favors contribution limits, much like the one that exists for candidates running for federal offices. In Illinois there are no restrictions to the amount of money that can be donated to a person running for city, county or state office.

According to court documents, the Zurics have successfully completed nine developments in four other wards since 2002. They have also given campaign contributions to three out of the four aldermen in those wards, which include the 1st, 40th, and 47th wards.

"We do everything out in the open, in the clear, never behind closed doors," Moore said.

The Zurics were not available for comment when reached at their company, which is run out of a first floor apartment in Wicker Park, according to state documents.

The "hole" is now in foreclosure and the Zurics and their bank have competing lawsuits over a $2 million dollar debt.

Moore said he has tried but failed to find someone else to take over the project.

But for many residents in the 49th Ward it seems the hole just keeps getting deeper.

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