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Afternoon Edition: Nov. 6, 2020

Today’s update is a 5-minute read that will brief you on the day’s biggest stories.

This vacant warehouse at 2821 Grant Ave. in Bellwood was seized by the Cook County Land Bank Authority for unpaid property taxes, then sold to a buyer nearly three years ago. But it remains vacant and not paying taxes more than a year after it was supposed to have been rehabbed.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Good afternoon. Here’s the latest news you need to know in Chicago. It’s about a 5-minute read that will brief you on today’s biggest stories.

Happy Friday! This afternoon will be sunny with a high near 73 degrees. Tonight’s low will be around 52 degrees. This weekend, cure your election hangover with some socially-distanced time outdoors: Saturday will be sunny with a high near 71 degrees and Sunday’s high will be around 74 degrees.

Top story

Cook County’s $1 million tax bust

For years, nobody wanted the abandoned warehouse in the west suburbs.

A big reason: The building — an old perfume factory in Bellwood — had unpaid property taxes topping $1 million that anyone who bought it would have to pay.

To try to get the property once again bringing in taxes, the Cook County Land Bank Authority stepped in.

The county government agency was established in 2011 to do that very sort of thing and given an unusual power to help make it happen: It can wipe out any unpaid taxes on vacant property so prospective buyers won’t have that added financial burden. All they have to do is fix up the property, and they get a bargain. And the county gets property taxes once again coming in to support schools and other government functions.

That’s how it’s supposed to work.

But it didn’t in Bellwood. The building is still vacant, nearly three more years of taxes have gone unpaid, a court fight’s underway, and taxpayers are likely to end up being out even more money on the whole thing.

The failed deal has become a $1 million tax bust for the county land bank authority, which has come under scrutiny and been the subject of two critical audits since we reported last November on an insider deal involving Chester Wilson, chief of staff to Ald. Carrie Austin. Wilson donated a dilapidated building to the land bank, which wiped out his unpaid property taxes, penalties and interest — more than $200,000 — and, at Wilson’s recommendation, sold the building to his one-time business partner.

Just one bidder was interested in the Bellwood property. It paid the county $250,000 for the warehouse in 2017, with plans to convert the 27,000-square-foot building into a not-for-profit urban farm and culinary school.

That rehab hasn’t happened because the new owner, Urban Transformation Enterprises, says it shouldn’t have to pay any taxes on the warehouse property because it’s a not-for-profit charity. The state has signed off on that, but the final decision rests with the Cook County assessor’s office, which says it hasn’t seen evidence to justify removing the property from the tax rolls.

Land bank officials aren’t happy about the delay. They’re suing to take back the warehouse and keep all of the money Urban Transformation paid for the property, saying it violated the terms of its deal by not rehabilitating the place within two years.

Urban Transformation president Donald Patterson and his lawyer say they haven’t been able to do that because the village of Bellwood — which wants somebody paying taxes to move in — won’t give them building permits.

Now, Urban Transformation has dropped its plans to turn the warehouse into a farm where people, including some coming out of prison, would get valuable job training.

The story doesn’t end here. Keep reading Tim Novak and Lauren FitzPatrick’s investigation.

More news you need

  1. For the second consecutive day, state health officials today announced a new record high single-day tally of confirmed COVID-19 cases: 10,376. The previous record, set yesterday, was 9,935.
  2. Chicago rapper King Von was among three people killed in a shooting involving police outside a club today in Atlanta. “rip von god bless him and his family,’ Chance the Rapper posted to Twitter.
  3. Two teens were attacked by a woman and man in a South Loop park this week after they wrote “Biden 2020” in chalk on the sidewalk. A recording of the interaction was posted to Facebook; you can watch it here.
  4. On election night, Illinois’ 20 Electoral College delegates went to Joe Biden. But even though the state “went blue,” not every county did. See how your county voted in the presidential election with our interactive map.
  5. Testifying virtually at City Council budget hearings today, Deputy Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Chris Sauve said changes are coming to a recycling program that has been stuck in the mud for years. Chicago’s dismal 8% or 9% recycling rate could “double overnight” if organics and yard waste were added to the mix.
  6. Concept Schools Inc., a politically connected charter school chain, has agreed to pay $4.5 million to end a long-running federal investigation into allegations it improperly steered federally funded technology contracts to “chosen vendors,” WBEZ reports. Concept Schools operates four campuses in Chicago and dozens of others across the Midwest.
  7. Chicago will have an official Christmas tree this year for fans to enjoy, but the annual lighting ceremony will be off-limits to the public. Due to COVID-19 restrictions on mass gatherings, the lighting ceremony will for the first time be a virtual event.

A bright one

New mural on West Side memorializes Black Panther Party’s Fred Hampton

A decade after a mural memorializing slain Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton went up on the West Side, its faded images have been replaced with a new version that also salutes the Black political struggle he was a part of.

The original version showed just Hampton, with the words “Chairman Fred.” The new one at 2746 W. Madison St. also includes other faces and a quotation from Hampton: “I Am A Revolutionary — Free Em All.”

The Black Panthers were an influential force in the Civil Rights era. The group had a militant, Marxist edge that drew the attention of the FBI and other law enforcement agencies at a time when the authorities often investigated political groups. But Hampton also worked to foster peace among rival street gangs and to provide free breakfasts for the poor, among the anti-poverty and social justice efforts he supported.

A new mural at 2746 W. Madison St. honors Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton.
Provided

The mural is less than a mile from where Hampton, 21, was killed Dec. 4, 1969, in a raid conducted by the Chicago Police Department and officers assigned to the office of then-Cook County State’s Attorney Edward Hanrahan.

Andre Trenier, an artist from the Bronx, completed the work in August. Trenier said he wanted those viewing the mural to learn more about Hampton and to “start conversations about things that need to be talked about.”

“I hope for it to be a teachable thing and for people to start being more educated,” Trenier said. “Because the more educated we are about our history, the better we’ll do in the future.”

Fred Hampton Jr., who was born weeks after his father was killed, was among those behind the new mural.

Read Leen Yassine’s full story here.

From the press box

One day after Bears center Cody Whitehair tested positive for the coronavirus, shutting down Halas Hall for a deep cleaning, the team had no new positive COVID-19 tests today.

Other health-related updates: The team activated guard Germaine Ifedi today after his five-day quarantine ended. And backup quarterback Mitch Trubisky apparently will not need surgery on his injured throwing shoulder.

Back to actual football, Mark Potash gives his midseason assessment of where the Bears stand. And our experts make their predictions for Sunday’s game against the Titans (noon, Fox-32).

Some White Sox fans are afraid new manager Tony La Russa is too old school to handle the young team. Tim Anderson says it’s not an issue, and he intends to continue to have fun.

The Fire face NYCFC Sunday at Soldier Field (2:30 p.m., WGN-9).

Your daily question ☕

What have you been doing to manage your stress this week with the election AND the pandemic going on?

Email us (please include your first name and where you live) and we might include your answer in the next Afternoon Edition.

Yesterday, we asked you: What’s your favorite Christmas song? Here’s what some of you said…

“To me, the most beautiful, most inspirational and serene Christmas song there is is the one called ‘Dominick the Donkey.’” — Michael Oelrich

“‘I’ll be home for Christmas.’ My dad was in Europe in WW2 and they heard it a lot.” — Gary Anthony

“‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ - Frank Sinatra.” — Abel Rafael

“Was my mom’s favorite: ‘White Christmas.’ Can’t listen to it without crying.” — Karen Tomaszewski

“So many good ones! Probably ‘Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire!’” — Caitlin Orozco

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