The operators of the Park Grill in Millennium Park should pay taxpayers more than $8 million to cover lost rent, natural gas and trash-hauling, City Hall lawyers say, urging a Cook County judge to break the restaurant’s “sweetheart deal” signed more than a decade ago.
Lawyers for the restaurant argue that the concession deal with the Chicago Park District is valid. But they say that if Cook County Judge Moshe Jacobius ends up disagreeing and ends the lucrative deal, then the city and the park district should be ordered to pay the restaurant’s operators and investors more than $13.6 million — the amount they say they expected to collect by selling the concession agreement to the Levy Restaurants four years ago.
Attorneys for City Hall and the restaurant both filed written closing arguments Friday, hoping to bring an end to the food fight that’s cost taxpayers more than $4.1 million in legal fees, as Mayor Rahm Emanuel pushes to break the deal that began under former Mayor Richard M. Daley. The judge has set oral closing arguments for May 22.
City Hall maintains the concession agreement is invalid because the park district had no legal authority to grant the restaurant a concession agreement on land controlled by the city without getting permission from the Chicago City Council. The city also says the park district gave the restaurant a below-market deal, with free natural gas and garbage collection, because one of the restaurant’s operators, Matthew O’Malley, was having an affair with Laura Foxgrover, a top park district official at the time, during the negotiations. They later married.
The Park Grill’s lawyers say Foxgrover “was not substantively involved” in the negotiations with O’Malley and his partner, James Horan. They also argue that Daley and City Hall knew of the restaurant’s deal in the park, noting that the City Council gave the Park Grill permission to sell liquor, a license that was then granted by the mayor’s office.
Few in the park district knew of Foxgrover’s affair with O’Malley, a relationship the Chicago Sun-Times revealed in 2005 — two years after park district granted O’Malley’s company a 30-year deal to operate the only restaurant in Millennium Park, one of the crown jewel’s of Daley’s tenure as mayor.