IRS problems don’t deter Daley pal from seeking development deal

SHARE IRS problems don’t deter Daley pal from seeking development deal

Rich’s friend Jack is back in contention for the big prize in one of the highest-stake games in the local political sandbox.

Never mind that Jack owes Uncle Sam a whole lotta jack.

Clout-heavy developer Jack Higgins last year landed what was to be a $175 million deal to develop nine publicly owned acres on the Near West Side. But Higgins — who’s close to former Mayor Richard M. Daley — was forced to back out after it surfaced that he and his wife owed the Internal Revenue Service more than $2.5 million.

Cook County records show Jack and Martha Higgins continue to owe $2.53 million for federal taxes on income in 2005, 2008, 2009 and 2010.

And the feds recently filed another tax lien against the couple, for almost $265,000 in unpaid income taxes for 2011.

Still, Higgins again is pushing for the right to develop the nine-acre site at 2020 W. Ogden Ave.

Most might hesitate to do such a big deal with someone who’s deeply in debt to the federal government. The future of the Ogden site, though, depends on an obscure but influential public agency called the Illinois Medical District Commission. The governor, the Cook County Board president and the mayor appoint the commission’s seven-member board, which oversees a 560-acre area just west of downtown.

The agency’s leaders originally chose Higgins to be the main developer of an office, retail and residential project called the “IMD Gateway Development.” Those plans were abruptly scrapped in November, a couple of days after Chicago Sun-Times reporter Tim Novak asked commission officials about Higgins’ IRS problems.

“The Illinois Medical District Commission has not executed and will not be executing any contract with Higgins Development Partners to develop the property at 2020 W. Ogden Ave.,” the commission’s spokeswoman said at the time.

The agency re-started the developer-selection process for the site.

Higgins was not deterred.  Records show he attended the commission meeting last week, signing in as a representative of “Gateway Partners.” At that meeting, labor union members asked the commission to approve a new proposal from the team led by Higgins.

He had previously appeared among a large crowd of clouted people at a pre-bid meeting for potential developers on Feb. 5.

Also represented at the pre-bid meeting was a newer company in town called Tur Partners LLC. Its executive chairman is former Mayor Daley, and the firm’s principals include his son, Patrick Daley. While Daley father and son apparently did not make it to the February meeting, records show there were two people from Tur Partners there — including former mayoral chief of staff Lori Healey, now chief executive of Tur Partners.

Healey did return telephone calls seeking elaboration on why she was at the meeting.

UPDATE: Healey said Wednesday that Tur Partners is part of a bid team for the medical district project that’s led by Vermilion Development Corp. and Clayco Inc.

Higgins’ daughter, Bridget Higgins McCarthy, had partied with Daley family members on the night Daley nephew Richard J. Vanecko threw the punch that killed David Koschman a decade ago. She and her husband got immunity from prosecution to testify before the grand jury that indicted Vanecko for manslaughter in Koschman’s death.

One of the ex-mayor’s other nephews, lawyer Patrick Daley Thompson, said he once had a client with an interest in the medical district site on Ogden. But Patrick Daley Thompson wouldn’t answer when asked if he’s working for Higgins’ pending bid for the Ogden deal.

Businessman Elzie Higginbottom was another RMD-era stalwart who attended the pre-bid meeting in February. As did former pro basketball star and West Side native Isiah Thomas.

A spokeswoman for Thomas confirmed his real estate company is part of a team vying for the deal. But nobody will talk publicly about what they are proposing or who they’ve partnered with. In its request for proposals, the commission explicitly demanded a “quiet period” until it decides who gets to build on the site.

The decision was supposed to be made by now, but an announcement has been put off until July. 

Until the deal is done, the commission won’t even acknowledge who has made bids. This insistence on silence suggests the sort of back-room dealing that Gov. Quinn, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Mayor Rahm Emanuel should have discouraged their commission appointees from allowing.

Given the public’s stake in the site and the project’s history, we deserve to know more than jack about what’s going on there.

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