Three years after pleading guilty and paying a hefty fine for tax evasion, Beanie Baby founder Ty Warner is gushing about a new project. He’s just wrapped up a $120 million hotel renovation that’s allowed him to travel the world.

Warner also has moved up a bit on Forbes’ billionaire list. He saw his net worth rise to $2.6 billion last year, up from $2.3 billion the year before.

The founder of Ty Inc. in Oak Brook didn’t return a request for comment about his transformative year. But he was chatty with New York Real Estate Journal about the massive renovation of the Four Seasons Hotel in New York.

“No attention to detail and no cost were spared,” Warner said. He traveled the world for Italian Breccia Oniciata marble, English Sycamore wood paneling and Lizard Gold wall-coverings. Some rooms feature 65-inch HD televisions.

Warner says the goal was to preserve the modern-deco style building designed by I.M. Pei.

Talk about a turnaround.

In 2013, Warner faced possible jail time for hiding millions in a Swiss bank account.

He agreed to pay a $53.5 million penalty, $16 million in back taxes and interest and 500 hours of community service. Federal prosecutors unsuccessfully appealed the no prison time sentence.

Warner also developed a relationship with Leo Catholic High School in Englewood.

“We felt he more than upheld his end of the arrangement,” school President Dan McGrath says of the entrepreneur program Warner helped start. “Mr. Warner was always nice to the kids, very patient answering their questions, and they enjoyed being around him.”

Beanie Babies remain part of Warner’s empire, but his main focus is hotels. Along with the New York Four Seasons, Warner owns the Four Seasons in Santa Barbara and a resort in Mexico that features a villa that Forbes says rents for $35,000 a night.

The secret lives of pet owners

Cook County Commissioner John Fritchey and Smudge, a Shar-Pei.

Cook County Commissioner John Fritchey and Smudge, a Shar-Pei. | Courtesy of Karen Morgan

A new coffee-table book reveals the secret lives of Chicago pet owners.

“The Chicago Pet Project” features portraits of notable names and love letters they’ve written to their feline and canine friends.

Terry Duffy, chairman and CEO of CME Group, is photographed in his office with his two Italian greyhounds, Mia and Koko, sitting on his lap. “Our family wouldn’t be complete without you,” he writes to the dogs. The photograph also reveals his love for sports memorabilia.

Cook County Commissioner John Fritchey‘s letter to Smudge, a Shar-Pei, reads as if the two met on a dating app. “I scrolled upon your picture posted on Facebook,” he writes. “I immediately set up a time to come see you.”

In the photo of Ald. Scott Waguespack and his pit bull, Kai, it’s the alderman who’s planting a big wet one on his dog.

Stephanie Neely, a vice president at Allstate Insurance, wrestles her 4-year-old Rottweiler, Zeke, on her couch and reveals she’s got high expectations for him to compete as a show dog. She also competes as a horsewoman.

U.S. Appeals Court Judge Richard Posner focuses on pet care in his letter to Pixie. He calls the Maine coon cat “an ambassador of peace among species.”

A few pets passed on to pet heaven since the book went to press, including auctioneer Leslie Hindman‘s beloved Bengal cat, Bob. She’s got other pets, too, so the letter is still worth sharing as it describes Hindman as much as it does her late cat.

“You’ve broken my Tang pottery lady — and she was so lovely. You think the leg of my favorite Louis XVI chair is a scratching post. You’ve attempted repeatedly to scale my 17th century Belgian Tapestry,” she writes. “You’ve stood on the head of my marble bust of Julius Caesar during dinner parties. I forgive you. I’d be bored to tears without you.”

The Puppy Mill Project produced the book and profits from it are going to Millie’s Mission, a fund that pays for veterinary costs of dogs rescued from puppy mills where dogs may live in overcrowded or unsanitary conditions.

An intergalactic museum battle

George Lucas

George Lucas | AP Photo

The Chicago battle over the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art was epic. But an intergalactic war has emerged between San Francisco and Los Angeles, rival towns that are fighting to call the museum their own.

Billionaire filmmaker George Lucas, who makes his home in Chicago, is expected to decide by the end of the month where he’ll build his legacy museum.

“Put yourself in his (Lucas’s) shoes. You could be on Treasure Island, where you’re visible throughout downtown San Francisco. Or you could be a museum in a park with other museums,” Adam Van de Water, project manager in San Francisco, told The Associated Press. It was a dig at L.A.’s plan for the museum.

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti’s response: “A museum should not be cloistered away from the people. We don’t live life on islands.”

Ouch.

Read more Taking Names at shiakapos.com.