Someone’s getting thrown under the bus.
That much seems clear after watching the second season premiere of HGTV’s “Windy City Rehab.”
The Sun-Times got a sneak peek of the newest episode of the popular reality show, which follows Chicago designer Alison Victoria as she buys, rehabs and flips homes. The series, which was watched by 24.5 million viewers last year, is set to restart Sept. 15.
Just minutes into the episode, Victoria (whose legal name is Alison Gramenos) uncovers suspicious budget discrepancies carried out by her co-host and general contractor Donovan Eckhardt.
The issue came up after a bank refused to issue the pair a loan to buy a Logan Square property because bankers were still waiting to be repaid on a loan that was to cover construction costs of a home on the 1600 block of North Wood Street in Bucktown —a short walk from Victoria’s own home.
‘Where did the money go?’
The majority of the $715,000 bank loan, Victoria learned, had been paid to a company Eckhardt owns, with little progress to show for it.
“Where did the money go?” she asks two confidantes — saving a direct confrontation with Eckhardt for another episode and not allowing him to defend himself. (Neither Victoria nor Eckhardt responded to requests for comment.)
“I don’t know what to believe anymore because for so long I was letting him run all the budgets, do the bank draws, deal with the bank accounts, and I just was designing,” she says in the episode.
“We have 12 companies together because each house is a different LLC,” she says, referring to the limited liability companies the duo created to purchase homes featured on the show.
“How do you get out of that?” she says. “You don’t just go, ‘Why don’t you get rid of the guy? ... If that really could be ... I would do it now, but I can’t.
“I have this house and I have seven other properties,” she says of their overlapping projects. “He’s on all the loans. How am I supposed to just be like, ‘Oh, I’m not going to work with him anymore?’ You know, I kept making up excuses. I kept going ‘Maybe this was just too much, maybe 10 homes was just too much for him to handle.
“Me, my business and my reputation are not going to survive if this stuff keeps happening. No way.”
Says Eckhardt: “I just want to get in my car and drive and leave everything behind me.”
A host vs. host storyline has been brewing for some time.
The two have faced complaints from neighbors over messy construction sites, a crackdown by the city’s buildings departments, and several lawsuits from two sets of unhappy buyers, unpaid contractors and investors who offered Victoria and Eckhardt seed money.
In a text included with a lawsuit filed by a Lincoln Square couple alleging shoddy workmanship and fraud, Victoria angrily writes, in discussing a check from one of Eckhardt’s accounts that bounced: “If I have to cover his portion I will. I do not want him to f--- with my life or business any more than he already has.”
The show acknowledges some of the problems in the opening moments, which include video clips of news stories about the show’s legal challenges. Bold capital letters flash a message: “You’ve seen the headlines. Now see the full story.”
Stop-work orders at properties are flashed on the screen, and Victoria acknowledges: “The city of Chicago is just coming down on me, I’m just constantly stopped.”
Indeed, Victoria and Eckhardt are suspended from getting new building permits in Chicago, according to a city spokeswoman. Eckhardt’s contractor’s license, which was temporarily suspended last year due to violations, expired March 12 and has not been renewed. The license is needed for his company, Greymark Development, to operate in Chicago.
Eckhardt is on screen for only a few minutes in the episode. Victoria ends up taking the reins on the Wood Street project and brings in another general contractor to help overcome a series of challenges — including a burglary in which thieves made off with a $5,000 toilet in November.
The tension between the two is in stark contrast to the first season, when Victoria described their quirky chemistry: “Donovan is pretty much like my work husband. He has the anxiety. I have full blown anger — and it works.”
This season, Victoria says of her business partner: “I want to be gentle, sometimes, but then other times I want to rip his face off.”
Episode 2 in Bridgeport?
Though Eckhardt’s role in the first episode is abbreviated, he reappears in the teaser to the second episode, in which Victoria, while making a pitch to rehab a home in Bridgeport, calls the South Side neighborhood “the Brooklyn of Chicago.”
But Eckhardt says he is not interested in single family homes in Bridgeport.
“It’s just going to be less profit, and that’s just a simple fact,” he says. “I think it’s stupid.”