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Waukegan high-rise Lakeside Tower is on the mend

Lakeside Towers located 200 Julian Street Waukegan. | Ryan Pagelow~Sun-Times Media

Lakeside Towers located at 200 Julian Street in Waukegan. | Ryan Pagelow~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 10, 2013 6:47AM

WAUKEGAN — Valentine’s Day will mark one year since the city suspended the business license for the owners of Lakeside Tower, and the suspension — already believed to be the longest in local history — will stretch until at least the last week of March as officials continue to monitor operations at the Julian Street high-rise.

Building department attorney Anne Linn said Friday that while officials eye at least one lingering fire-safety issue, she otherwise has been told “by people who are involved over there that it’s 180 degrees from where it was a year ago.”

“I know for a fact that things are going very well over there,” Linn said, adding that her reports indicate “it’s very clean and very quiet, which is excellent.”

Chicago-based East Lake Management, owned by well-known Chicagoan Elzie Higgenbottom, saw its license suspended last Feb. 14 by the city’s Development Review Board, which includes the heads of the fire, police and building departments. The suspension came during increased scrutiny that followed the Dec. 29, 2011, carjacking and murder of a Hickory Street resident, allegedly committed by two Tower residents who were later apprehended on-site.

Officially, the suspension accused management of “conducting (business activity) as to constitute a breach of the peace, or a menace to the health, safety or the peace and comfort of the residents of the city,” adding that the city observed a “failure to continuously comply with all conditions required” to maintain a business license.

According to Linn, license suspensions normally run 90 days, but the board extended it in the case of Lakeside Tower following hearings in the spring and fall. Linn said that East Lake has “spent a lot of money installing equipment” and improving security measures, including a system that requires visitors to sign in with identification, but the fire department asked for more time to evaluate the building’s pressurization of stairwells, which is designed to keep the exit routes smoke-free in the event of a fire.

The board’s next scheduled meeting is March 28, and while observers await the outcome of that review, the Lakeside Tower issue emerged in the race for mayor last weekend when the three Democratic primary candidates were asked how they would address concerns at the high-rise.

“We can’t blame people for problems management won’t (fix),” said 1st Ward Ald. Sam Cunningham. “If the management is bad, you get the management out of there. People will conform to what you tell them to do, but if you allow them to go and do what they want to do, they’re going to go do that. ... We cannot refuse people a place to stay based on the actions of a management situation.”

“The city has been tackling this issue for 20 years. (It) hasn’t gotten any better in those 20 years,” said state Sen. Terry Link, adding that he has received “hundreds” of complaints from people both in and around the Towers saying “we need to change the management of the people who are running it, or tear the building down.”

Link also said he would work with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on cleaning up the Towers, “and if they don’t clean up, if I’m mayor, I’m going to condemn the building.” City Clerk Wayne Motley also criticized the building’s management, and targeted federal voucher programs in the aftermath of Chicago’s demolition of high-rise public housing for creating what he called “that mess over there.”

“We know the problem down there,” said Motley, “and I actually agree with Sen. Link — we either fix the problem by getting good management” or asking the Waukegan Housing Authority to consider a solution similar to Chicago’s.

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