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Lincolnwood throws final party at Purple Hotel

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013 8:35 a.m. CDT

(MCT) — The last guests of the long-vacant Purple Hotel in Lincolnwood on Tuesday will be developers and village officials, who will gather to watch a wrecking ball knock its famed purple bricks into a pile of rubble.

"It's sort of bittersweet for me and for everybody in the community to see it go, but also looking forward to the future," said Neal Stein, a principal at North Capital Group.

Stein and company plan to transform the hotel property and adjacent parcels at Lincoln and Touhy avenues into something that resembles a central business district for the near north suburb. Plans call for restaurants, retail, office and public space and a new hotel — that won't be purple.

Built in the early 1960s by the Hyatt company and designed by architect John Macsai — who officials said will attend its demolition — the Purple Hotel was once a destination for celebrity guests. Perry Como, Roberta Flack and Barry Manilow all checked in at one point. Michael Jordan supposedly spent his first night in Chicago at the hotel after being drafted by the Bulls in 1984.

But its history is not as bright as its bricks. In the 1980s, a reputed mobster and associate of the late Teamsters leader Jimmy Hoffa was gunned down in the parking lot, reportedly by a masked man. And in the 2008 corruption trial of Rod Blagojevich fundraiser Antoin "Tony" Rezko, political "fixer" Stuart Levine testified to taking part in frequent drug binges at the hotel.

By 2007, complaints of rodents, mold and other code violations forced Lincolnwood officials to seek a court order closing the hotel's doors. The village later gained court permission to demolish the hotel, awarding a $1.1 million contract for the work 2011.

Then North Capital Group stepped in, purchasing the site last year with renovation plans that would have spared the building and converted it into a boutique hotel with banquet and restaurant facilities. New retail and office space also were contemplated in the original plan.

Initial plans were submitted and meetings held in early 2013, but Stein said the financial projections and site constraints didn't add up. The hotel's location in the middle of the property left little room for additional development on the site, he said.

"It just didn't make economic sense to put that amount of money in a 50-year-old structure," he said. "No matter how nice we could have made it, it just wouldn't have allowed us to give people what they want today."

Some village officials have seen preliminary plans for the new development, said Timothy Wiberg, Lincolnwood village manager.

"Their problem keeping the building up was it was really difficult to use the remainder of the site," he said. "What they're doing now is taking much fuller advantage of that property and developing it in a more intensive nature."

Wiberg said the main concern of the village has always been in seeing the "prime site" redeveloped from a vacant safety hazard to an economic engine for the village. Officials had been willing to spare the hotel from a wrecking ball, he said, but the new direction more closely represents what the village envisioned for the property.

Those purple bricks may not fade into history, though, as several thousand of them await possible inclusion in the new development, Stein said.

"The architects haven't designed what it will be — maybe in a fountain or a walking path," he said. "But we'll definitely want to include some remembrance of the past building in the new development."

About 2,000 of the bricks were at Lincolnwood Fest 2013 earlier this month, where for a suggested $5 donation owners could own a piece of the hotel. Proceeds went to the village's public library, Stein said. Nearly $6,000 was raised, he said.

The lines of people waiting to get their hands on a brick surprised Stein.

"It reminded me that this hotel played a significant role in Lincolnwood and the northern suburbs for so many years," he said.

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©2013 the Chicago Tribune

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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