Calumet City’s municipal government has agreed to pay $125,000 for a brick tavern on a major thoroughfare in the working-class south suburb.
Officials say it will be the 12th bar that Calumet City has acquired over the past decade or so, part of an ongoing push to reduce the number of drinking establishments, especially in residential neighborhoods.
But this deal stands out because Calumet City Ald. Nick Manousopoulos’ family owns and operates the tavern, Harry O’s No. 1 Lounge at 816 Burnham Ave., according to interviews and records obtained by the Better Government Association.
What’s more, Cook County records show the family owes $29,969 in past-due property taxes, a sign the business may be running low on cash.
Manousopoulos says Harry O’s isn’t in terrible financial shape, but insists the sale, scheduled to be completed June 12, isn’t a bailout courtesy of taxpayers.
“The city isn’t cutting my family special breaks,” he says, adding the bar is still profitable. “I could see if my family got $250,000. But they got fair market value.”
Mayor Michelle Markiewicz Qualkinbush says the deal came together after Manousopoulos told her “his family was interested in selling.”
“Since 2003 we’ve had a program to reduce the number of bars,” Qualkinbush says. “That property is part of that program. The fact that his family owns it is irrelevant.”
Manousopoulos says he doesn’t have a direct financial interest in the business or the property. Built in 1950, the one-story, gray brick building has dark red trim and green awnings.
He says one of his brothers operates Harry O’s, a neighborhood tavern with sports on the TV, a dance floor and video gaming terminals.
His parents, Haralambos and Panagiota Manousopoulos, paid $95,000 for the 2,456-square-foot property in 1997, records show.
Unlike many of the other bars Calumet City has acquired, Harry O’s is not in a residential neighborhood and hasn’t been a chronic trouble spot, officials say.
However, the bar was cited last year for selling alcohol to a minor in a joint undercover sting with Calumet City police and the Illinois Liquor Control Commission, records show. The alderman says he wasn’t present when the violation occurred.
Municipal officials say the suburb agreed to pay $125,000 for the property.
According to the Cook County assessor’s office, the estimated market value is $118,924 but a recently completed appraisal stated $125,000, according to a copy obtained by the BGA.
Manousopoulos says his family will use the sales proceeds to pay the back taxes.
The suburb’s city council approved the real estate purchase contract on a 4-to-1 vote at a meeting May 14. Manousopoulos abstained. Ald. Antoine Collins voted no.
“I didn’t see a financial benefit to the city,” Collins says. He declined comment when asked if he opposed the arrangement because it involved the Manousopoulos family.
Calumet City may raze the property; the city council authorized the suburb’s Inspectional Services Department to obtain bids for demolition.
Officials say another option is to move the Calumet City Historical Society to the building. The society’s home needs more than $350,000 in repairs.
The BGA has reported on numerous municipal government issues in Calumet City, including a pension sweetener for a city attorney, an alderman using taxpayer money to attend a film fest and missing cash from public coffers.
Most recently, the BGA found eight people on the south suburb’s government payroll who are related to local government officials. Those included Qualkinbush’s son and four of Manousopoulos’ relatives.
This column — a regular feature called The Public Eye, appearing in the Chicago Sun-Times – was written and reported by the Better Government Association’s Andrew Schroedter, who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (312) 821-9035.