For nearly 20 years, three politically connected companies have been using city-owned property, without paying rent or property taxes on the land, to park cars in the shadows of the United Center.
The lots draw fans of the Blackhawks and Bulls and concert-goers willing to walk a little farther to pay a couple of bucks less than it costs to park at the United Center.
But some of these outlying lots where Red Top Parking, Peoples Stadium Parking and Joseph Feldman have United Center patrons park their cars contain parcels that aren’t owned or leased by them, records show. They’re owned by City Hall.
The city has no lease agreements, though, with the three companies. So they pay no rent. And the lots are exempt from property taxes because they’re owned by the city.
City Hall has issued licenses to the companies to operate parking lots and has routinely renewed those licenses. It requires them to pay a tax for each parked vehicle.
The companies are all family-owned and have been in business for decades.
The parking-lot operators appear to have begun using the city-owned lots during the administration of Mayor Richard M. Daley, when the city began acquiring land for construction of the United Center, built across from the old Chicago Stadium.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration erected barricades at one location last week to keep Feldman from parking cars there, And it plans to do the same at three other locations unless Red Top and Peoples Stadium can prove by the end of the week they have a legal right to use the city-owned property.
“Abuse of taxpayer resources will not be tolerated under this administration,” said John Holden, a spokesman for the city Law Department.
The Emanuel administration, which says it received a complaint more than a year ago about these companies using city-owned property, sped up its enforcement action after inquiries from the Chicago Sun-Times.
“This is a total surprise to me,” said Bernard Hollywood, an attorney for Red Top Parking, which has been parking cars on a city-owned parcel in the middle of a parking lot in the 1800 block of West Adams, just south of the United Center. “We’ve been parking cars on it for 20 years.”
According to the city, Red Top also has been parking cars on another city-owned lot, at 1641 W. Warren.
Ronald Shudnow, an attorney whose family owns Peoples Stadium Parking in the 1700 block of West Madison, two blocks east of the United Center, noted that Peoples has a city license to operate and pays City Hall for each car parked.
“The license was issued,” Shudnow said. “We take care of the paving, the lighting and the inspection fees for the signs. They got a great deal. It’s not costing them anything, and they’re getting money for it.”
In 1996, the city sued to acquire the Shudnow property The case was settled, with City Hall agreeing to let his family park cars on two city-owned lots in the middle of their parking lot — but only until 2001. Shudnow later asked to renew the deal, but the city apparently never responded. City Hall has repeatedly renewed his license to park cars between 1700 and 1716 W. Madison, which includes the two city lots.
Shudnow, whose law firm specializes in property-tax appeals, has given $42,750 to political campaign funds, records show — mostly to Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios and members of the Cook County Board of Review. The assessor’s office and the Board of Review determine property assessments.
Shudnow, 74, of Glencoe, has contested the property assessments on his parking lots, arguing that they produced a net income of only $38,087 in 2012, when the United Center was sold out for every Blackhawks and Bulls game.
Shudnow’s parking lots include land owned by Lewis and Delores Secor of Park Ridge, who operate Red Top.
Hollywood, Red Top’s attorney, said its owners believed they had bought the city lot they’re using in 1996 when they bought surrounding property for $403,000 from the the Public Building Commission of Chicago.
“We probably do actually have title, but the city is probably not going to agree unless I can come up with a deed that shows that the city transferred that lot,” Hollywood said. “We may have to go to the city, and, rather than argue about who owns the property, we’ll buy it from you. This is not catastrophic. If the city doesn’t want us to park cars on it, we’ll put a fence up around it.”
Red Top has paid Illinois Senate President John Cullerton to lobby city officials for the company, which has contributed more than $29,000 to political campaigns including those of Ald. Walter Burnett (27th), whose ward includes many of the parking lots around the United Center.
Red Top bought some of its property from Feldman, the other lot owner hit by the city with a cease-and-desist order.
Feldman, 50, of Naperville, acknowledged his employees have parked cars on five city-owned lots at the southwest corner of Warren and Hoyne, where City Hall has now put up concrete barriers.
“On a few nights a year, a few cars might get in there,” Feldman said. “I don’t think it’s the end of the world. Those cars are going to be parked in the neighborhood somewhere. I try and keep things orderly.”
Feldman comes from a politically connected family in the 11th Ward, the Daley family’s political power base. His father is the longtime publisher of the neighborhood newspaper, the Bridgeport News, and his parents owned A.F. Trucking, which had a dump truck in City Hall’s Hired Truck Program until Daley shut it down after a Sun-Times investigation found dozens of companies with political ties were paid by the city but did little or no work.
The Feldmans have made $13,500 in campaign contributions to politicians including Burnett and Cook County Commissioner John P. Daley, who runs the family’s 11th Ward political organization.
City Hall also recently cited Feldman with a zoning violation for parking cars on two residential lots just southwest of the United Center in the 2000 block of West Adams. His family acquired the property in a land swap with City Hall in the 1990s and never got it rezoned for parking.
In June, he hired Daley& Georges — a law firm run by the former mayor’s brother Michael Daley and his former top City Hall attorney Mara Georges. She persuaded the City Council to rezone the property for commercial uses last month, so Feldman could park cars there.