|By Jonathan Bullington, Chicago
TribuneMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Jan. 22, 2012--Its history is as colorful as the garish paint covering the exterior walls -- speckled with musicians and athletes, a suspected mob hit, and drug parties thrown by a politically connected "fixer."
Vacant since 2007 and full of mold, the Lincolnwood landmark locals call The Purple Hotel may be saved from the wrecking ball by a North Shore developer.
"When you have an architecturally significant property with so much history and nostalgia, you can really do some wonderful things with it," said Jake Weiss of Weiss Properties, a Skokie development firm that specializes in resurrecting vacant properties.
Weiss has partnered with North Capital Group, which recently bought the hotel's mortgage note, to possibly redevelop the long-shuttered building as a boutique hotel with a convention center and retail space.
But first, Weiss said his team must navigate a series of legal complications: A bankruptcy involving the hotel's current owner, a foreclosure and a judge's Aug. 1 order that gave the village of Lincolnwood permission to tear down what some call an eyesore at Touhy and Lincoln avenues.
Built in the 1960s by the Hyatt company, it was once a destination for guests that included Perry Como, Barry Manilow and Roberta Flack. Legend has it that Michael Jordan stayed at the hotel on his first night in Chicago after being drafted by the Chicago Bulls in 1984.
There are darker stories, though. A year before the world's most famous basketball player supposedly checked in, a reputed mobster and associate of the late Teamsters leader Jimmy Hoffa "checked out" in the parking lot, where he was shot and killed by a masked man.
And in the 2008 corruption trial of Rod Blagojevich fundraiser Antoin "Tony" Rezko, political "fixer" Stuart Levine testified to taking part in frequent drug binges at the hotel.
The Purple Hotel had a few owners after the Hyatt company left, briefly becoming a Radisson, then a Ramada. It's been owned since 2004 by Village Resorts Inc.
In 2007, frustrated with building and health problems, Lincolnwood got a court order to have the hotel closed until its 30-plus violations were remedied, officials said.
"The building posed a threat," said Lincolnwood Village Manager Timothy Wiberg. In 2005 and 2006, patrons began complaining about rodents, mold and lack of sanitary conditions, Wiberg said.
After the village got court permission to demolish the building, a $1.1 million contract was awarded in December to Delta Demolition Inc. But the hotel has been spared as the village makes sure it can recoup that money.
Weiss presented his plans in December to the Village Board meeting as a committee of the whole. And while receptive to the project, the board wants to see all three parcels on the Purple Hotel site developed together, Wiberg said.
North Capital Group does not own the mortgage note for the two neighboring parcels -- one on Touhy to the west of the hotel and one to the north on Lincoln, Weiss said. But they're on his radar, he said. And a redeveloped Purple Hotel, he added, would make them more attractive to potential tenants.
To tear down the Purple Hotel would be a great disservice to the community, Weiss said.
"I really feel strongly how much tearing down a building like this ... economically, environmentally and historically, is not the right move," he said.
Weiss anticipates an entire gut rehabilitation of the hotel would cost around $18 million to $20 million. But he estimated that tearing down and rebuilding the entire structure could tack on an additional $20 million to $25 million.
The color, history and infamy all add to the hotel's mystique and potential, Weiss said.
"There are so many stories and fond memories," he said. "When people can attach to something emotionally, it creates a loyalty base for people who can feel personal ownership of it. I think the notoriety helps to take something with a past and give it a positive spin."
As for the hotel's distinctive hue, Weiss said he first thought people hated the purple. As such, planners discussed a design that "hinted" at purple, he said -- maybe through lighting.
But he said his opinion has changed as he's heard from more people.
"Purple seems to be something well-loved and well-received, if we can get over the obstacles of its current condition," he said. "I don't know if we're ready to commit either way."
Neighbor Paul Karagiannis says to keep it purple.
"There is so little uniqueness to Lincolnwood," he said.
A decade ago, Karagiannis spent a New Year's Eve at a party at the hotel, when he was in high school.
"It was stuck in time," he recalled of its fake stucco walls and '70s kitsch. "It was probably grander for that time period."
The hotel's color has inspired some to sign a petition to "keep this landmark," and has spawned a website, savethepurple.com.
Other Lincolnwood residents are less enthralled with the hotel's history and color.
"It's sort of a landmark, I guess," said nearby resident Ben Macks. "But it would be fine with me if it wasn't there, or if some hotel chain came in and upgraded it."
Neighbor Ephrem Malko was more direct in his critique.
"It's an eyesore," he said. "We need something good there. I can't stand the purple color. I've seen it for 30 years, though, so I'm used to it."
(c)2012 the Chicago Tribune
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