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By Anna Lothson
A longtime tenant of 201 Harrison St. has filed a lawsuit against the property owner, the project's contractor and the Village of Oak Park, among others.
Matt Kwilas, owner of Prodigy Glassworks, was displaced from his business last August when the facade of the building collapsed. He said he was promised he'd be allowed back in the space within a few months; it has now been 10.
The lawsuit claims that property owner Chris Kleronomos' management company and its contractor, Builtmax Construction, are responsible for more than $100,000 in lost business. Kwilas has also named in the lawsuit the property's court-appointed receiver, Dan Harrington of the Village of Oak Park, as well as two other companies affiliated with the property.
Simone Boutet, Oak Park's interim village attorney, said that as of Tuesday the village hasn't officially been served the lawsuit papers. As a general rule, though, she said the village doesn't comment on pending litigation matters. None of the other parties named in the lawsuit could be reached by phone Tuesday.
Kwilas said the choice to name multiple parties in the lawsuit came from his lawyer, who advised it was best to name all parties affiliated with the property so it could be determined in a legal setting who was to blame, instead of letting individuals place blame on others.
"It's impossible to get stuff out; the metal structures are part of the building," he said. "I hope I can resign a lease and that something does come out of this. I can't set up anywhere else."
Kwilas said it's not about getting back at anyone; it's about regaining a piece of what he's lost.
"I want to be made whole. I want to get back to business and get back up and running," he said. "I'm over being angry. This is just business and getting me back to where I was."
The next "stick in the mud," he said, is the fact that his lease has run out. Moving from the Harrison Street property, however, isn't a concept he thinks is feasible. All the ovens and heavy equipment are nearly immovable from inside the property. He also doesn't know the condition of the inside materials since it's under construction now.
Kwilas said initially when the collapse happened he was in good contact with village staff, who, he said, listened to his concerns. Over time, however, he learned the village didn't have much authority since it isn't the owner of the property. The village did take action last year by fining Kleronomos for hiring workers to do un-permitted work by removing parts of the building's façade.
The somewhat complicated ownership terms of Kleronomos' seven properties on Harrison Street — which are all for sale and under foreclosure — also throws a wrench into the mix. Kwilas said the confusion over the properties being disputed among the courts, banks, and insurance company has slowed the process more than he expected. It's been especially confusing as a tenant, he said, since he hasn't gotten the answers he's been seeking for months.
Kleronomos' properties were put in foreclosure when he fell behind on a $3.5 million construction loan, for which he put 201-211 Harrison up as collateral, along with several other nearby properties.
"There were a lot of things going on. … It dragged out," Kwilas said. "But ultimately in the end I'm the only one out of business."
Late last week, the construction fencing was removed around the Harrison Street properties, but Kwilas said he hadn't heard when or if he could return to his old space. He also had no indication what the condition of the building is inside, which has been a major concern of his during much of this process.