Editor’s note: This is part one of a two part series that takes an in depth look at the future of the Purple Hotel, its developer and the impact it’ll have on the community.
The Josh Liss of today is an award winning sports anchor for WBBM Radio. Back in 1986, he was a Skokie teenager on the verge of a Bar Mitzvah. That meant a reception was necessary. Where did Liss and his family schedule the party? Lincolnwood’s Purple Hotel.
“I had both of my son’s receptions there because it was very nice, convenient and the people were very accommodating,” remembered Sherry Petlin, Liss’ mother. “It was a place to be and (besides) I went to the hairdresser there.”
So what does Petlin – who also had her Sweet 16 party at the hotel - think of the building today at the corner of Touhy and Lincoln?
“It is a purple eyesore right now and I don’t think any community needs that,” she said. “It would add to the entire area - especially Lincolnwood - if it was redeveloped and brought back.”
That is the challenge ahead for Skokie developer Jake Weiss. After two years of wrangling in court and getting the OK from the village board, Weiss is now in control of the property. Can he make it a success in an economy that still seems to be stuck in neutral? That is the $40 million question right now.
Fast forward to today, and Weiss is an office that is a converted warehouse, which features a colossal fish tank to give it some color. Weiss and his associates are looking at a decades old collection of books, pamphlets and layout plans detailing the construction of the Purple Hotel.
It is quite a turn of events for the hotel that seemed destined for the wrecking ball just a few months ago.
For Lincolnwood, hope has emerged the hotel can be the economic engine it once was in an era gone by. For Weiss, this is a chance to carve his name into the history books. Still, danger lurks ahead and the local developer could find himself immersed in a pool of red ink.
After a two-year process, which he concedes, has been difficult and has cost $9-million to date, Weiss and North Capital now control all the parcels on the property. Weiss watched with dismay as previous owners let the once iconic part of the village deteriorate.
The money he has spent thus far could be a drop in the bucket if his $40 million estimation of what it might take to see the project completely developed turns out to be accurate.
Weiss hesitates when asked if he ever considered tossing in the towel and moving on given the arduous and expensive process.
“I think the corner is a good corner,” is the way he eventually answers. “Its proximity to the highway and (with it) being the first suburb north of Chicago. Lincolnwood has a good name and a good reputation and is something of a destination community. The question wasn’t whether to scrap it and move on, it might have been let’s look at this from another angle and do a straight retail development.”
But for now a mixed use site plan is envisioned by Weiss and his architect, Jackie Koo. If the plan develops (always a big if when dealing with projects of this scope) the new Purple Hotel complex will possess retail properties of 40,000 – 70,000 square feet, a 180,000 square foot hotel with 220 – 250 rooms and a restaurant.
Like any rehab, there have been unexpected costs in this project including the building had been stripped of what was a functional electrical system that will put another $2 million on the tab.
These are the kinds of things that indicate how the real estate world is never easy.
Village excited about future of property -
Despite his rehab woes, Weiss feels he has the support of the village.
“I am thrilled beyond thrilled that Jake Weiss and North Capital Group are now the pivotal planners and own the property because they will get something done,” said Lincolnwood Mayor Jerry Turry. “They won’t dig their heels in, they will be easy to deal with. They care a great deal about making that corner a premier corner again.”
Turry describes the last few years with the Purple Hotel as a “nightmare.” But those bad dreams may be in the past if his faith in Weiss works out.
“They have a great vision for this property,” Turry says of Weiss and his partners. “They have capital to invest and there are probably an infinite number of businesses that want to be on that corner and they will search them out. The village will work with them to make them successful.”
Weiss will have requisite appearances before a series of village boards and commissions, all standard operating procedure. The possibility of him qualifying for village TIF funds is out there to ease the financial constraints.
It’s possible - but not a certainty - construction could start later this year with an opening of some type by 2014. Weiss says he is in negotiations with retailers and a major hotel chain, but nothing has been finalized as of yet.
If the day comes when the building is built to the way Weiss now hopes, he will have to draw customers. There is likely a market out there starting with the radio morning personality who years after his Bar Mitzvah would run over to the hotel with friends trying to catch a glimpse of visiting college athletes.
Fast-forward to today and Liss has two boys of his own and continues to live nearby. If the Purple Hotel can have a Phoenix-type rising, Liss would consider holding family functions there. His mother also hopes Weiss can be successful as she would like to go back to the days where she could encourage friends and family to stay at the Purple Hotel.
His mother echoes that sentiment.
“There is a void in hotels there,” Petlin said. “We have the Doubletree and the Holiday Inn on Touhy but (the Purple) was always a nicer hotel.”
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