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Cal City taxpayers lose big on sale of bar run by alderman’s kin

Harry O's No. 1 Lounge in Calumet City. | Photo provided by Better Government Association

Calumet City taxpayers lost nearly $100,000 in a recent real estate deal involving a property once owned by an alderman’s family.

The south suburb’s municipal government paid $125,000 last May to buy a brick building that was long home to Harry O’s No. 1 Lounge, according to interviews and records.

The family of Calumet City Ald. Nick Manousopoulos operated the tavern and owned the one-story building. Manousopoulos says he didn’t have a stake in either venture.

Calumet City recently flipped the property at 816 Burnham Ave. for a fraction of what it paid last year, resulting in a $95,000 loss for taxpayers.

The buyer, Jose Rojas, owner of Cal City Bakery, paid $30,000 for the 2,456-square-foot building, according to interviews and records.

Rojas is a political supporter of Calumet City Mayor Michelle Markiewicz Qualkinbush. His bakery donated $200 to her campaign fund in August, state records show. Rojas says the contribution had nothing to do with the real estate deal and he gave because “I try to help out the city as much as I can.”

The Better Government Association previously reported that Manousopoulos’ family owed nearly $30,000 in past-due property taxes when they sold the building to Calumet City, an indication the business may have been struggling.

The family appears to have used the sale proceeds to pay off the debt, records show.

Calumet City officials have said they didn’t buy the building to bail out the family, and claimed the $125,000 sale price represented fair market value.

Qualkinbush didn’t return messages. Calumet City Attorney Burt Odelson said the deal to sell Rojas the building made sense, even though the suburb took a loss.

“We saved Cal City Bakery,” he says. “They were leaving town because they couldn’t afford their rent. They’re investing $100,000 in the property and we’re getting it back on the [tax] rolls. It’s exactly what we’re trying to do for years.”

Rojas says his investment could exceed $200,000. He plans to move his bakery from County Line Road to the Burnham Avenue location.

Manousopoulos says the Calumet City Historical Society had showed interest in the Burnham Avenue property but ultimately decided not to move. That left Calumet City with the option of either tearing it down or selling to Rojas, he says.

“We cut him a deal and kept a business in town,” he says.

Exterior of Harry O's Lounge in Calumet City | Photo provided by Better Government Association

Exterior of Harry O’s No. 1 Lounge in Calumet City | Photo provided by Better Government Association

Harry O’s was the 15th bar that Calumet City acquired in the last decade, part of an ongoing push to reduce the number of corner bars and taverns, officials said.

Calumet City has spent nearly $1.5 million on the taverns. Nearly all have been demolished, at taxpayer expense, records show.

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, including relatives of Qualkinbush and Manousopoulos.

This story was written and reported by the Better Government Association’s Andrew Schroedter, who can be reached at aschroedter@bettergov.org.