The future of the Oak Park Arts District is up in the air as a bank is looking to seize several high-profile buildings owned by a controversial Harrison Street property owner.
Chicago Community Bank has filed to foreclose on six properties along Harrison — including buildings housing the Brown Elephant resale store, Briejo Restaurant and Prodigy Glassworks — all of which are owned by Chris Kleronomos.
The longtime property owner had taken out a $3.5 million construction loan back in 2005, and put up seven different properties as collateral, according to court records.
Kleronomos stopped making payments on the loan in May 2010, the bank claims, and since then, he has accrued $461,544 in unpaid interest and late fees.
Reached last week, the River Forest resident said he was unaware of the foreclosure lawsuits, which the bank filed on Jan. 28 and Feb. 4. Kleronomos said he was up-to-date on all of his loan payments and believed the bank had made a mistake.
"There's nothing I can comment on because I'm not in default on anything," he said.
When asked what the $3.5 million construction loan was for, Kleronomos said, "I have no idea what you're referring to. I really don't. We conduct a lot of business with different banks."
Chicago Community Bank calls the debt a construction loan in court documents but does not specify what was being constructed. A spokeswoman for the law firm representing the bank, Holland & Knight, declined to comment.
Back in 2005, the year Kleronomos took out the loan, he presented plans to completely gut an apartment building at 900 S. Taylor, transforming it into condos, according to a Wednesday Journal story. At the time, the property owner said the project's costs went "well into seven figures."
"We're very excited," Kleronomos told Wednesday Journal in February 2005. "It will be a nice addition to the neighborhood."
The 12-unit "Gallery 900" condo building at 900-910 Taylor is also listed in the foreclosure documents. April Moon, the original leasing agent for the building, did not return calls seeking comment.
A 2006 webpage for the building lists the one-bedroom units between $159,000 and $219,000. Only one of the 12 condos has been sold, according to the Cook County Recorder of Deeds website.
Altogether, Chicago Community Bank is trying to gain possession of seven properties from Kleronomos, including 201-211 Harrison, 213 Harrison, 200-210 Harrison, 146-148 Harrison, 217-219 Harrison and a condo on Bonnie Brae in River Forest. The loan was originally taken out in October 2005 for $1.5 million. But it was amended in June 2009, boosting the total to $3.5 million and adding three more properties as collateral, according to court documents.
As of this month, a balance of about $3.3 million remains unpaid on the loan.
Jody Andre — who co-owns Briejo at 211 Harrison — said she was unaware of the foreclosure lawsuit when reached last week. She said Kleronomos has been a great landlord during the two years since the restaurant opened.
"He's been very understanding with us if we need something, and he's been a really good landlord as far as giving us time if we're having a bad month or a bad week," she said. "He's been very forgiving, understanding and supportive."
Kleronomos has been criticized in the past for failing to take care of his buildings and being slow to fill vacancies. The Village of Oak Park sued him in December 2008, trying to force him to fix up a building at 213-215 Harrison that has been vacant for decades. But the village dropped the complaint a few months later after he made the repairs.
Village Manager Tom Barwin did not return a call seeking comment, and Village President David Pope declined to comment until more information became available.
Laura Maychruk — owner of the Buzz Café and a longtime critic of Kleronomos — thinks it might be a good thing for the arts district if the properties fall into different hands. While he has made strides to improve his buildings, she said, they still have remained unoccupied for years.
"He has been a negligent landlord and a neglectful landlord," she said. "It's not like he's intentionally cruel. I think he's just incapable, for whatever reason, of maintaining his properties and finding tenants. Nobody has ever really been able to figure out why."