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Zoning chairman willing to give post office developer one last shot

The chairman of the City Council’s Zoning Committee said Tuesday he’s willing to give British developer Bill Davies one last shot at developing Chicago’s old main post office, but only if the massive building is made safe and Davies presents a viable plan to redevelop it.

“I’m always open for a compromise — a solution. But, it doesn’t seem like he does anything unless we push it. He didn’t talk to me for the first time until I down-zoned it. Then, he talked to me again when I introduced it for another down-zone,” said Ald. Danny Solis (25th).

“He doesn’t pay attention unless you do something to force him to. He’s not in this city. He’s not in this country. I can barely understand him when I talk to him on the phone. We need somebody to roll up their sleeves, get in there and get the job done.”

Last week, Planning and Development Commissioner David Reifman said the city’s patience with Davies had run out after years of grand plans and empty promises that have turned the vacant Main Post Office that hovers over the Eisenhower Expressway into a giant civic embarrassment.

“We have not seen the type of progress we expect. We haven’t seen the progress that was promised,” Reifman said then.

On Tuesday, Reifman reiterated that statement

“The owner clearly has no credible plan. Alderman Solis and I agree that we are moving forward with the strategy we announced. Nothing has changed, so the owner should have no illusions to the contrary,” Reifman was quoted as saying in an emailed statement.

Bill Davies defaulted on a $40 million bid for the old post office, then bought it for a lot less at auction. | Sun-Times file photo

Solis’ offer to give Davies one last chance is significant — and not just because of the power he wields as Zoning Committee chairman.

Solis is also the influential mayoral ally who convinced Rahm Emanuel to pull the trigger on the city’s ultimate weapon — the power of eminent domain — and use it to seize control over the old post office and solicit bids to redevelop it.

The alderman was exasperated by, what he called Davies “greed” after learning that the British developer had twice turned down offers of $150 million from other developers.

Now that he has Davies’ attention, Solis opened the door to compromise.

“If he gives us what we’re looking for — a viable proposal that brings jobs, residential, business or commercial and not 45,000 square feet out of 2.5 million square feet [but] something that’s serious — I’d consider it,” the alderman said.

Solis once again scoffed at Davies’ most recent plan to start small — by seeking tenants for 300 “micro apartments” ranging from 250 to 600 square feet. That’s a concept tried in New York City that has never been tested in Chicago.

“That’s way too small. … I need a legitimate developer [who] has a specific plan that can be done where we can begin construction and we have a timeline of a development that is going to happen for the city and make that building safe and secure. That’s another big concern,” the alderman said.

Earlier this week, Davies’ project manager called Chicago’s old main post office “one of the most important buildings in America” and made it clear that the British developer was not about to give it up without a fight.

“If they use eminent domain in that way, it would mean they could choose any building in the city and just say, ‘We can take that property and pay what we want to pay,'” said Martin Mulryan, Davies’ project manager.

“It’s one of the most important buildings in America. Maybe somebody has realized that and thinks, ‘We don’t want an overseas developer owning it.’ It’s a valuable asset. The city wants control of it. I’m sure it will be a low offer. But, [Davies] is not going to say to the city, ‘Come along and take the building if you like.'”

Davies lives in the tax haven of Monaco. He bought the building for $17 million in 2009 after defaulting on his winning auction bid of $40 million.

Two years later, he announced plans for a massive complex of retail, hotel and residential space with a trio of modern skyscrapers flanking the art deco post office, including one building that would reach 2,000 feet – taller than the Willis Tower. The City Council signed off on that planned development in 2013.

International Property Developers North America, Davies company, is still having ongoing discussions with potential investors and buyers, even after a mayoral announcement that, Mulryan said, could “scare away potential buyers or investors.”

“There must be a way out of this that would suit the city and IPD, rather than one side trying to force the issue and steal the building,” Mulryan said.

“I do understand the sense of embarrassment. It’s a large, empty building in Chicago that should be employing people and earning tax dollars. But even if the city takes this building, things won’t move within days or weeks. It may not be quicker doing it this way than sitting down with us and telling us what the city wants and how they can help. This is a building for Chicagoans. It’s not a building for British people. The city should have a greater involvement.”