Judge rules Lincoln Mall may stay open for now
By Casey Toner firstname.lastname@example.org August 8, 2013 3:42PM
The east end of Lincoln Mall remains a demolition site. Village inspectors cited this as a code violation. | Photo: Casey Toner~Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 10, 2013 6:28AM
A Cook County judge on Thursday ruled that Matteson’s Lincoln Mall may stay open pending a Thursday court hearing.
Circuit Court Judge Thomas Condon also ordered the mall’s owner, New York-based Lincoln Mall Holding LCC, to create a plan to correct the mall’s fire and building code violations and to give $100,000 to the village to be placed in an escrow account.
“What this means is that the owner of the mall has a clock ticking on how long he has to take meaningful steps to begin to correct these problems,” said attorney Anthony Licata, who’s representing Matteson. “Not only with talk, but with action, including hard cold cash to be deposited to back up what he says.”
Matteson filed a lawsuit Wednesday seeking the indoor mall’s immediate closure, saying it has become a safety hazard to shoppers and employees. The suit cited numerous code violations such as exposed wiring, a crumbling foundation and fire exits that were blocked, among other things.
The lawsuit also asks the judge to appoint a receiver for the troubled 40-year-old mall and fine Lincoln Mall Holding LCC, which, led by Michael Kohan, took over the mall in June 2012 for $150,000 and about $700,000 in back taxes.
Attorney Michael Aschenbrener represented Kohan at Thursday’s hearing and asked Condon for more time to fix the mall’s safety problems.
“What needs to happen is the parties need to work together,” said Aschenbrener, who was brought on as counsel a day before the hearing. “My client wants to get the mall in shape, and my client is prepared to do so.”
Attorney John Kennedy, also representing the village, questioned Kohan’s efforts.
“When they talk about, ‘why can’t we all get along,’ that’s a joke, that’s a sham,” Kennedy said. “Who is going to guarantee the safety of the people of Matteson in the mall? These lawyers? No. This company? No.”
Kennedy described Kohan as a “negligent landlord,” who had turned the mall into a firetrap. He alleged that none of the lease income from merchants has been used to maintain the mall, U.S. 30 and Cicero Avenue.
“It’s only by the grace of God that nothing horrible has happened there to date,” Kennedy said.
Numerous Lincoln Mall merchants attended the hearing, filling rows in the courtroom. They opposed the lawsuit and audibly scoffed when Kennedy claimed that any mall closure would be short term.
“It’s going to put us out of business,” said Khaled Alwawi, who owns Perfume World. “No one will pay our mortgage. No one will pay for our kids’ college.”
Theodore Barr, owner of Creative Hairworks, said the village and Kohan were equally responsible for the mall’s problems.
“I blame them both,” he said. “One is being stubborn, and the other is not putting in enough effort.”
Condon spoke briefly during the arguments, lamenting that the “poor people who own stores that are being held hostage by this situation.”
After making his ruling, Condon said he hoped the week would give Matteson officials and the mall owner enough time to prevent a “tragedy.”
At least one business owner wasn’t convinced that one week would be enough for Kohan and the village to come to a resolution.
“I would wonder much they can do in so little time?” said Irene Abed, owner of Subs Deluxe.