Clouted developer, ally of ex-Ald. Solis bids to become pot shop landlord — but says competitors might be sabotaging him
Fred Latsko owns two buildings that could soon house pot stores in River North and West Town.
A politically connected real estate mogul who has been an ally of disgraced former Ald. Danny Solis (25th) is now at the center of the race to open some of Chicago’s first recreational weed stores.
Although developer Fred Latsko says he doesn’t have a stake in any Illinois pot companies, he owns a pair of vacant properties where cannabis businesses want to sell weed.
One is at 901 W. Kinzie in the West Loop; Windy City Cannabis wants to open a recreational weed shop in the massive, mural-covered brick building. The other is at 444 N. LaSalle, the former home of the English Bar & Restaurant, in River North; PharmaCann, a Loop pot company, wants to open a clinic there.
Latsko recently told the Chicago Sun-Times he was approached by the cannabis firms and didn’t actively market his properties to them.
But by no means are the pot companies a lock to become Latsko tenants. Windy City Cannabis has yet to hold a required community meeting for the Kinzie Street location or apply for a special-use zoning permit. As a result, the company won’t take part in next month’s special meeting of the Zoning Board of Appeals, where PharmaCann and its counterparts will seek zoning approvals.
As for PharmaCann’s proposal for Latsko’s building on LaSalle, state law prohibits pot shops from opening within 1,500 feet of each other, and three others want to open nearby. That means only one of those shops eventually will be allowed to open.
As a result, Latsko — long a player in Chicago’s political and development landscape — says he’s concerned that someone might be trying to sabotage his chances of PharmaCann becoming his tenant at 444 N. LaSalle.
City building inspectors slapped a warning on that building Feb. 18, saying owners could get a citation for “interference with officials” after an inspector was unable to gain entry to the property. Pat Mullane, a spokesman for Mayor Lori Lightfoot, said a 311 caller had complained that construction work was being done at the location without a permit.
PharmaCann spokesman Jeremy Unruh deferred questions about the issue to Latsko, who denied that any work was being done and suggested the caller may have simply been confused by the construction at a neighboring building.
But he also suggested the tipster may be in cahoots with another weed firm seeking to open in the area. “I think a lot of people are scrambling to try to muddy waters for different people out there,” Latsko said. “I think it’s competitors.”
A spokesman for Cresco, which also hopes to open nearby, declined to comment on Latsko’s claim. Representatives for the other two pot dispensaries, MOCA and Greenhouse Group, didn't respond to messages.
A week after officials tried to get inside Latsko’s building —after the Sun-Times reached out to PharmaCann and the city — an inspection was scheduled and “no issues were found at the property,” Mullane said.
It’s no surprise Latsko’s high-profile sites are drawing interest from pot companies; he’s been a clout-heavy player in Chicago for years. In 2017, he doubled his investment in a property at 930 N. Rush when he sold the home of a Lululemon Athletica for nearly $21 million.
He also has some familiarity with the marijuana industry, leasing buildings to cannabis businesses in Nevada and California.
Despite his involvement, Latsko said he’s “still reluctant” about his role in the legal weed biz. That’s largely because the federal prohibition of the drug restricts cannabis firms from using traditional banking services. ”I get paid in cash from tenants,” noted Latsko, who remains hopeful something will eventually be done to remedy that issue.
A former driver for legendary Bears quarterback Sid Luckman, Latsko made headlines in 2009 after Rod Blagojevich expunged Latsko’s 24-year-old criminal record for theft and forgery on Blagojevich’s last day as governor.
More recently, Latsko’s name appeared in a 2016 affidavit for a search warrant of ex-Ald. Solis’ 25th Ward offices. The warrant accused Solis, the former chairman of the Chicago City Council’s Zoning Committee, of receiving sex acts, Viagra, campaign contributions and free use of Latsko’s Indiana farm — once owned by Oprah Winfrey — in exchange for shepherding official City Hall actions.
Around that time, Solis proposed an ordinance “favorable to Latsko’s business interests” and participated in city approval of some of his real estate projects, the affidavit said. Latsko has denied to the Sun-Times there was any quid pro quo.
Contributing: Tim Novak