Old Man Trouble

May Company and the city wish Jack Randall would just go away -- he won't

Neither City Hall nor May want to talk about it, but Randall and his attorneys and friends say it's clear the city was in rapid-response mode on May's demands for a permit to close the two fire exits and shut down the sprinkler system.

From January 2001 forward, there's a flurry of letters, demands, phone calls and sit-downs. This includes two City Hall meetings where Randall claims that May's requests were discussed but he wasn't invited. The most outraged and acerbic letters come from Randall, who wrote everyone, including Frankie the Saint. Typically, Frankie passed the matter off to Barb Geisman, his deputy mayor for development.

The correspondence is thick and bureaucratic -- except for Randall's letters. Here's what it boils down to: City Hall did May's bidding, granting the permits that allowed May to brick over the exits and rip out the sprinkler system, slapping a quick condemnation order on Randall for the resulting fire-code violations.

Sen Thai owner Suthiporn "Art" Chandawanich
Jennifer Silverberg
Sen Thai owner Suthiporn "Art" Chandawanich
Building owner Jack Randall
Jennifer Silverberg
Building owner Jack Randall

"I told the city this was a dispute between two businesses that the courts should settle," said Randall. "I told the city to butt out.... They keep asking me, 'Jack, why are you such a troublemaker?'"

Instead of backing away, players like Geisman; Paul Beckerle, head of the business assistance office, and Smith, the building inspector, helped May make Jack Randall's building an elegant heap of damaged goods, says Mark Hellner, a Chicago business and real-estate litigator on Randall's retainer.

"By limiting the access, you limit the market and most probably would reduce the market value of the building and make it undesirable to anyone except May," says Hellner. "You become concerned that it's just a squeeze play."

Although May's suits and legal beagles made much noise about wanting to avoid potential liability, and the expense of providing water to the sprinkler system that ran into Randall's basement, Hellner says this is hogwash. This wasn't an onerous burden for the company and Randall was willing to pay a reasonable fee for the water and fire-exit access.

May and the city argued that Randall could easily tap directly into the city's water main. But Randall and Hellner say this isn't as easy as it sounds. It's also expensive -- between $50,000 and $75,000. The city rejected a cheaper alternative -- a 2,000-gallon tank in the alley between the garage and Randall's building.

Sen was also killed by "the cutie-pie trick the city pulled," as Randall calls it.

Chandawanich says the bricked-over fire exit to his restaurant has imprisoned about $70,000 worth of expensive equipment that won't fit through the front door.

"It's discouraging," he says. "I won't get back into the restaurant business any time soon. It's hard to find people you can trust and depend on."

And it has outraged the friends of Jack Randall, a group of bona fide heavyweights who rush to defend a guy who practiced law in this city for 40 years and showed his love of downtown by buying its old buildings and gussying them up.

"What's my take? They're picking on a guy who's terrific," says Alan Pervil of Jack Dubinsky and Sons, the long-time, center-city real-estate outfit that sold the Gill Building to Randall in 1978. "Maybe Jack gets people angry, maybe he's too blunt, but here's a guy who's done more for the city than anybody. If you want to make a deal and buy a building, deal with a guy up front and legitimately. Don't do this."

As for Randall, he spends most of his time tending to his ailing wife and puttering around his country place. They moved away from downtown and are unlikely to return.

But this doesn't dampen the anger or the acid wit.

"You have a greedy CEO and some brain-dead politicians and you've got a volatile mix," he says. "The sad thing is that I'm not the only guy this is happening to -- this is happening all over town."

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