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CPS leasing school lots to a company that hasn’t paid its bills to City Hall for 3 years

The school system replaced a parking operator who was indicted with one that’s in arrears to the city and repeatedly has been cited for violations. It also bounced two checks to City Hall.

Premium 1 Parking owner Dylan Cirkic at a Chicago Public Schools owned-lot at 3830 N. Southport Ave. during a Cubs game Monday night.
Premium 1 Parking owner Dylan Cirkic at a Chicago Public Schools owned-lot at 3830 N. Southport Ave. during a Cubs game Monday night.
Tyler LaRiviere / Sun-Times

The last time the Chicago Public Schools system agreed to lease some of its school parking lots to a company that would then charge people to park there during nearby sporting events, things didn’t end well.

The clout-heavy company that had that deal for nearly a decade kept charging for parking at those school lots but stopped paying, according to CPS. It sued the company — which the Chicago Sun-Times found had a convicted child sex offender parking cars for a Cubs game while kids played nearby on the school’s busy playground.

Soon after CPS sued, the company’s owner was indicted in an unrelated federal bribery case.

So CPS went looking for somebody else who’d pay to get the lucrative business. Several clout-heavy companies wanted in.

But the one that CPS chose, Premium 1 Parking Inc., owes the city tens of thousands for unpaid taxes and fines, has been in arrears for three years and doesn’t have all of the required city business licenses, records show.

Under Premium 1 Parking’s current contracts with CPS, which took effect April 1, the company agreed to pay about $13,000 a month to use 10 school lots near Wrigley Field and other busy neighborhoods.

Premium 1’s city licenses for valet parking and for garage parking — required for using the school lots — have been placed “on hold” by the city Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection as of April 30. The city says that means the company won’t be able to renew those licenses or obtain new ones until its debts are paid.

And city inspectors cited Premium 1 in March for “operating without the required public garage license” at 10 schools.

In December, city officials agreed to put Premium 1 on a 24-month payment plan to pay off the $45,000 it owed for unpaid valet parking taxes and fees resulting from 52 administrative violations dating to 2018 — including fees for twice bouncing checks it used to pay the city.

But, aside from a $20,000 payment on Dec. 14, owner Dylan Cirkic hasn’t made any of the $1,000-a-month payments he agreed to, according to City Hall. That’s what triggered his company’s latest license problems.

“No other payment was remitted beyond the initial down payment,” says Kristen Cabanban, spokeswoman for Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s city law department.

Cirkic, who started Premium 1 in 2016, disputes that he’s in arrears to City Hall, saying, “I don’t owe any money.”

CPS was still allowing his company to charge people up to $40 as recently as Monday to park on school property during a Cubs home game.

But Cirkic’s company owes CPS “approximately $23,000 in rental fees, plus late fees and applicable revenue fees,” having missed payments in April and May after paying a total of $77,300 to 10 CPS schools prior to that, according to schools spokesman James Gherardi.

Gherardi says CPS could dump Premium 1 after June 10 if it doesn’t pay up and then would “launch a competitive bidding process for parking lot rentals to ensure schools have the highest possible potential revenue streams.”

He says CPS “was not aware of serious concerns with the vendor when it entered into its agreement. And when discussing repayment, the vendor misled the district and provided false information regarding its accounting, which is completely unacceptable.”

Parking attendants with Premium 1 Parking flag drivers during a Cubs home game Monday to park in a garage at 808 W. Addison St. that InterAmerican Elementary Magnet School shares and that it leases to the company.
Parking attendants with Premium 1 Parking flag drivers during a Cubs home game Monday to park in a garage at 808 W. Addison St. that InterAmerican Elementary Magnet School shares and that it leases to the company.
Tyler LaRiviere / Sun-Times

For over a decade, CPS has let principals bring in extra money for their schools by leasing their parking lots and auditoriums for use when school’s not in session and kids aren’t in their buildings. Each school gets to keep whatever money it brings in, with the deals all vetted by the school system’s central office downtown.

The leases can be lucrative for schools near the ballparks and United Center — areas that generally are wealthier and more heavily white than the city as a whole.

Other schools have gotten smaller payments by leasing space for nearby restaurants and churches to use.

During the 2010s, the company leasing the most school lots was Blk & Wht, a business owned by James T. Weiss — who’s former Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios’ son-in-law and a friend of the Daley family — and Iman Bambooyani, who also operated The Raw Bar near Wrigley Field.

Blk & Wht had contracts for parking cars at as many as 11 schools, agreeing to pay $2.1 million from April 2018 to the end of 2020 — including $1.1 million to a single school, InterAmerican Elementary Magnet School, near Wrigley Field.

On a Cubs game day in July 2018, Sun-Times reporters found a convicted child sex offender parking cars on an InterAmerican lot adjacent to the school’s playground, which was crowded with kids playing.

Click to read the Sun-Times’ Aug. 5, 2018, report.
Click to read the Sun-Times’ Aug. 5, 2018, report.

Then, in April 2019, Blk & Wht stopped paying to use lots at three schools nearest Wrigley Field, according to CPS, which sued.

On Nov. 19, 2019, Weiss told CPS he no longer would be parking cars on school property, breaking his contract — but he continued parking cars on one of the school lots for another month, according to CPS’s lawsuit.

Weiss broke his contract six days after his offices were raided by federal authorities as part of an investigation of then-state Rep. Luis Arroyo, a Chicago Democrat who later was charged with paying a bribe to then-state Sen. Terry Link to support legislation to legalize video gambling machines in towns that ban such gambling.

Weiss — who also owns Collage LLC, which operates video terminals known as sweepstakes machines — was lobbying state and city officials to legalize those machines.

Weiss since has been indicted, accused of bribing Arroyo. He has pleaded not guilty.

Its lawsuit against Weiss’s company still in the courts, CPS says Blk & Wht owes it about $366,000.

InterAmerican used to count on getting hundreds of thousands of dollars a year by leasing its parking lot and the garage it shares with the Chicago Police Department’s 19th District station on Addison Street. The school had been getting $381,000 a year that it used to hire extra teachers, according to Carolina Barrera-Tobón of InterAmerican’s Local School Council.

“The effects of those funds no longer being available is still hurting our community,” Barrera-Tobón says. “Those parking garage funds have historically been used to fill extra ‘specials’ positions and a climate and culture position.”

Eager to keep the parking revenue coming in for its schools, CPS sought bids for 11 lots not long before the coronavirus pandemic hit and tanked the economy.

CPS’s procurement department told prospective bidders to certify that they “are not in arrears or default with CPS” and would pay the costs of the required insurance, background checks and city permits.

In February 2020, Premium 1 put in the biggest offer by far to snag the parking deal — at least $800,000 to cover the period from March through December.

Among the seven other bidders that tried to get the CPS parking business was LAZ Parking, which has the city’s parking meter deal.

Another company, One Parking, at one point was offered the InterAmerican school contract, according to InterAmerican’s LSC. But CPS canceled that deal and other school rentals after COVID closed the schools and “decimated the sports and restaurant parking market and was especially devastating near Wrigley Field,” Gherardi says. “We are pursuing much more limited licenses with short terms until the market improves.”

Cirkic and his lawyer William J. Didier said in documents filed with his bid that Premium 1 had parked cars at Hawthorne Elementary School in Lakeview in 2017 and 2018.

Apart from leasing the school lots, Premium 1 also handled valet parking at pricey Loop and River North restaurants and at Barney’s until the pandemic shut down the luxury department store adjacent to the Magnificent Mile for good.

The parking deals with private businesses led to trouble for Premium 1. In 2019, city inspectors cited the company for engaging “in deceptive practice by offering/conducting valet parking services at 15 E. Oak St. for Barneys New York to consumers without first obtaining the required city of Chicago valet parking license.”

According to city records, Premium 1 also parked cars elsewhere without having valid licenses from the city or insurance and illegally parked a customer’s Lexus in a tow zone at 338 W. Belden Ave. while handling valet parking at 2300 N. Lincoln Park West for a nearby restaurant.

Premium 1 parking attendants also were accused, according to city records, of showing city inspectors expired licenses or licenses from competitors they used to work for.

In 2019, its workers outside the Italian Village restaurants in the Loop were cited for pretending to be working for a company called Priority Parking.

The fines piled up. Twice when Premium 1 tried to pay, its checks bounced.

Still, CPS stuck with Premium 1, though by the time schools officials negotiated new parking contracts last September, they agreed to accept about $13,000 a month for 10 schools — far less than the $84,000 a month that Premium 1 had offered to pay pre-pandemic.

From April 1 to June, schools officials allowed Premium 1 to extend its contracts even though the company’s parking licenses were suspended for failing since December to make the monthly payments it agreed to give City Hall under its payment plan.