NOTE: This story contains spoilers from Tuesday night’s episode.
“This is the beginning of the end,” designer Alison Victoria foreshadows of her beleaguered partnership with contractor Donovan Eckhardt in the latest episode of “Windy City Rehab,” airing at 8 p.m. Tuesday on HGTV. It’s the dramatic twist that has been teased for months as the dubious business relationship has played out since the home renovation series debuted in 2019.
The show’s stars have continually been at the center of countless lawsuits, neighborhood complaints and stop-work orders from the city of Chicago on a number of the dozen-plus properties they have acquired with the intent to rehab and sell to local buyers.
But now in the fourth episode of Season Two, Victoria seems to mean it when it comes to finally dissolving the partnership. At the crux of the episode is a tension-filled “all-hands-on-deck” business meeting with Eckhardt, contractor Ermin Pajazetovic and Victoria’s director of purchasing/business manager where the four go “line by line” over financial statements to uncover some of the potential budget issues with a very ’80s-inspired two-level, four-bed, three-bath condo under construction at 200 E. Delaware Place in the Gold Coast neighborhood.
“There’s so many money issues on projects and so many questions I have … I have to get the answers. I just want to know where the money is going,” Victoria asserts. After internal audits allegedly reveal that Eckhardt invoiced for $180,000 in payments to a pair of his companies, Victoria notes that is “nearly half the renovation budget.”
When pressed about the early payouts — which negates an alleged operating agreement between Eckhardt and Victoria to split profits 50/50 upon completion of the project and sale of the residences — Eckhardt claims he invoiced for “general conditions,” including time dealing with investors and working with staff hired for the renovations. But as Victoria points out, Eckhardt’s license for general contracting was suspended and Pajazetovic has now assumed that role, so “you have no people” on the project, she says.
Calling the moment “the breaking point” and “a big red flag,” Victoria instructs her business manager to run audits on all of the last 10 homes she and Eckhardt have worked on, to uncover if any other secrets lie beneath the dust of their shared projects.
“For the last year, these are the things I didn’t see because he controlled all the budgets and accounts … I have so many sub[contractors] saying they haven’t been paid on past jobs,” Victoria says, further noting she hasn’t been sleeping and has lost all her personal income by putting her money into her business to keep the projects going. With Victoria later affirming her partnership with Donovan has ended, coupled with a preview of next week’s installment claiming she now “has five lawyers,” the deal between the two does definitively seem to be done — but not over, yet.
It was a sharp twist from earlier, lighthearted moments in the episode including a “sensitive demo” competition between Eckhardt and Chicago carpenter Ari Smejkal to see who could save more of the artistic tile backsplash in the Delaware property (which was later used for decorative coasters).
“I started to have fun with Donovan again and it reminded me of our days as friends,” Victoria says in an aside to the camera.
Eckhardt did not respond to a request to comment from the Sun-Times.
Elsewhere in the episode, other problems are uncovered as Victoria realizes some of the red tape associated with renovating a unit in a high-rise building. It’s one of the first times the show has worked on such a property, but in a deluxe reveal, the team disassembled the gaudy faux painting, curved built-in entertainment wall and a bathroom that “looked like a box of crayons exploded” into a modern, hotel-like luxury unit that mirrored the space and breadth of a single family home.
The Delaware property — next door to the 875 North Michigan Avenue Building (formerly the John Hancock Building) where Victoria says she lived as a child on the 45th floor — is still for sale by the end of the episode, with a staggering $752,000 renovation price tag that was only about $23,000 less than the two paid for the unit. Victoria alleges the renovation price was “way underestimated by Donovan,” who had initially put the assessment at $485,000.
But it’s not all bad news. In the episode, Victoria is also invited by Ryan Dempster to throw out the first pitch and sing the 7th Inning Stretch at a Cubs game, which she nails (with thanks to her singing lessons at Bucktown Music).
“I lost a friend and a business partner,” she concludes in the episode’s end, “but it had to happen for a reason.”
From the looks of it, we’re about to find all of those reasons in the coming weeks.
Contributing: Mitch Dudek