“Within days, a judge could decide the fate of the Pittsfield Building in the Loop. Will she order it put up for sale? Or will she allow its current owner, a Chinese-Canadian business mogul charged with securities fraud a few years ago, to hang onto the landmark tower?
“‘It’s impossible to tell,’ says Monte Mann, an attorney engaged in an acrimonious court battle over the high-rise. ‘There are twists and turns at every hearing. I really have no idea.’
“In Chicago, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Patrice Munzel Ball-Reed will rule soon on a proposal to sell most of the space in the Pittsfield, which is in receivership after years of neglect. It needs a massive makeover.
“Completed in 1927, the 38-story high-rise at 55 E. Washington St. is ‘one of Chicago’s finest 1920s-era skyscrapers, built during the decade when the city’s distinctive tower-pierced downtown skyline first began to take shape,’ according to a 2001 report recommending a landmark designation for the property.
“Both properties caught the eye of Xiao Hua “Edward” Gong, a Chinese businessman based in Toronto. He bought the Motorola campus in 2016 and the Pittsfield in 2017. Gong also bought the Holiday Inn Express in Rosemont in 2017, renaming it the Edward Hotel Chicago. Now closed, the hotel is on the market.
“Canadian prosecutors entered the story in late 2017, filing money laundering and securities fraud charges against Gong. Working through the U.S. Department of Justice, they then imposed a restraining order on the properties, effectively freezing them—a major obstacle to any potential plan to redevelop them.
“But earlier this year, prosecutors lifted the restraining order on Gong’s space in the Pittsfield. He owns all but nine floors in the building; Chicago-based landlord Marc Realty owns apartments on floors 13 through 21.
“By the time of Gong’s acquisition, the Pittsfield already was in bad shape, with the city filing a lawsuit over its condition in mid-2017. Courtney Jones, who was appointed the building’s receiver in January 2020, has overseen a major renovation of its exterior and interior, recently receiving Ball-Reed’s approval to be reimbursed for about $4.5 million in rehab costs.
“Jones recently filed a motion to sell Gong’s space, with the support of Marc and the city. Originally built as an office tower, the Pittsfield has attracted interest over the past decade from residential and hotel developers. But rather than approving the sale motion, the judge decided to give Gong a chance to retain his ownership stake in the Pittsfield—if he can come up with a credible turnaround plan for the building. Gong’s proposal is due May 24.
“‘We were surprised that that judge gave him another chance, given that he lost control of the property more than a year ago and does not seem to have the financial ability to bring his portion of the building into compliance,’ says Mann, who represents Marc Realty in the city’s lawsuit. ‘He’s had enough of an opportunity to do this, and he’s never come through.’ (Gallun, Crain’s Chicago Business, 5/21/21)
The long-stalled redo of this troubled Loop tower reaches a turning point. Trying to predict the future of the Pittsfield and another prominent property owned by the same investor—the huge Motorola campus in Harvard—has been next to impossible. But that could be about to change, Alby Gallun, Crain’s Chicago Business, 5/21/21