CHICAGO (CBS) — A Lincoln Park condo association is suing Francis W. Parker School, accusing the elite private school of surreptitiously purchasing units in their building in a bid for a “hostile takeover” so it could force other owners out, and use the building for a campus expansion plan.

Belden By The Park claims Francis Parker set up a trust to hide the fact it was purchasing condos in the building, and claims had the association known who was truly making those purchases, they would have used their “right of first refusal” to block the purchases.

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“Pursuant to Parker’s covert scheme, once it purchased condominium units in the BBTP Building representing over twenty-five percent of shares, through straw-purchasers or with assistance from its co-conspirators, BBTP would be unable to amend its governing documents to prevent Parker’s hostile take-over of BBTP, or exercise its right of first refusal,” the association’s lawsuit states.

The elite private school – with tuition starting at $30,000 for kindergarten – stands only 30 to 35 feet from the condo building. The school is seeking to expand, but is sandwiched between Clark Street, Webster Avenue, and the Lincoln Park Zoo; so they’ve set their sights on the condos to the north.

Past efforts by the school to outright buy pricy condo buildings just blocks from Lake Michigan were rejected by condo boards. So neighbors have said the school is trying to gobble up condo board seats.

“I have somebody breathing over my shoulder, telling me that they can’t wait to get me out of here, and are willing to buy me out in order to move me out, so they can tear my house down,” condo owner Jerry Savoy told CBS 2 in October. “What they did was they bought two condos in our building secretly, which in effect gave them the ability to influence the direction of the board.”

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Through a trust, Francis Parker has purchased six units in the building, according to the association’s lawsuit. In a recording obtained by CBS 2 last year, the school’s representative at condo meetings explained they had bought the first two units in the building “under the cover of night.”

The condo association cited that statement in their lawsuit.

“In short, it planned to acquire units through straw-purchasers, intentionally hiding its identity as the purchaser. In this way, Parker planned to covertly take control of the Plaintiff’s residential board and ultimately force those residents unwilling to sell out of their homes. And Parker did just that, with its plan nearly succeeding,” the association’s attorneys wrote.

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In addition to Francis Parker School, other defendants named in the suit include Chicago Title Land Trust Company, Principal Services Trust Company, Baum Realty Group, Baum president Michael Demetriou, and several current and former condo owners.

The lawsuit accuses the defendants of conspiring to commit fraud by hiding the school’s identity when it purchased condos in the building.

Francis Parker officials have said they only purchased units from owners who wanted to sell, and have apologized for using the phrase “under the cover of night.”

The school said it mostly wants to provide more learning space for current students.

Neighbors have said the school, with six acres of property already, has ample room to build its future by adding floors to existing buildings, or expanding onto existing parking lots or athletic fields.

The school mission calls “on all to participate with self-discipline, independence of mind and a collaborative spirit,” but Savoy said he doesn’t know how anything they’re doing matches that creed.

The school isn’t completely landlocked. It moved administrative offices to the west off Clark Street. Whether they’ll have similar success expanding in that direction remains an unanswered question.

 

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