Chicago Sun-Times, Mark Brown: Last SRO residents kicked out after new owners recklessly made hotel unsafe

By Mark Brown, columnist

The Chicago Fire Department ordered the Abbott Hotel, 721 W. Belmont, to be vacated by 3 p.m. Friday after inspectors documented for themselves the glaring safety hazards I reported in Thursday’s column.

The decision to kick out the Abbott’s last remaining tenants was the only sensible solution given the reckless conduct of the building’s new owners from BJB Properties — who had shut off the heat and water and destroyed the fire safety systems with tenants still legally occupying their apartments.

But I can’t help but feel that my column may have only served the purpose of helping the bullies get their way.

BJB Properties wanted the residents to leave the single room occupancy hotel, and now they must go within 24 hours, under pressure from the city, which somehow noticed nothing for months while these same residents were being abused.

City officials responded in force Thursday after my column appeared — first the police, then the fire and building inspectors, then the social workers and the lawyers.

But there was no mention afterward of any action to punish the owners.

I was assured a top deputy of the Department of Family Services was there “throughout the day” to coordinate assistance efforts for the last five tenants.

Yet somehow at about 5 p.m. as one clearly shaken couple was shown the door and found themselves outside on the sidewalk carrying their suitcases, who do you suppose was the only person there to help them reach their new temporary home?

Well, that would have been me, quite by coincidence, making my last rounds of the day.

“I can’t believe this is happening,” the 58-year-old man said as he loaded his belongings in my car.

I must emphasize right here that the man did not say this to me. In fact, he and his wife did not speak to me at all, because under terms of the hush money they were being paid to get out immediately, they were specifically instructed not to talk to the press.

I only know this, of course, because I overheard the two of them talking, me being a nosy reporter and them being steadfast in their conscientious determination not to violate any agreement with the scum-sucking owners.

By the way, neither Robert Purcell of Timberwolf General Contracting, which is overseeing the demolition, or his brother, Jamie Purcell, who is usually identified as the honcho at BJB Properties, have seen their way clear yet to return my calls. In fact, I’m still waiting for Jamie Purcell to return my call about the work they are doing at the nearby Chateau Hotel, though not holding my breath.

But back to the nice couple who absolutely did not speak with me, and if anybody says they did in an effort to weasel out of their end of the deal, I will absolutely hound them in this column as long as this newspaper will allow me, BECAUSE I CAN’T STAND BULLIES.

Speaking of bullies, a man known only to them as Bob (please note paragraph above) offered the nice couple a check to get out immediately with the threat that if they didn’t take it they would be thrown out on the streets Thursday by the city and get nothing.

My only solace is that this check was quite a bit larger than what the owners were offering Wednesday before my column appeared, although it was still chump change for an outfit like this.

The couple was so frazzled they weren’t even sure which hotel they were being sent to stay for the night, the Bellwood or the Bel-Ray, so I had to help them sort that out first.

I repeat. I only know any of this by eavesdropping — and by having spoken with them prior to signing the agreement — because the owners also promised to help the couple move the rest of their belongings into storage Thursday, and they’d better not try to screw with them or their stuff.

You are probably wondering about Michele Parisi, the 66-year-old Vietnam veteran who was featured in Thursday’s column.

As of late Thursday afternoon, she was still weighing her options, having also been offered a meager amount of money to scram and shut up about it. She thinks she might have a line on temporary housing through the Veterans Administration, which is trying to help her. A more permanent arrangement is still a problem.

Parisi avoids the building during the day to keep clear of the demolition dust, and therefore hadn’t seen any of those city workers eager to help her.

When I caught up with her at a coffee shop munching on a Lunchable, she said she was happy she’d told her story.

“When push came to shove, they couldn’t buffalo me,” Parisi said.

They sure as hell buffaloed somebody.