Lawsuits for Lincoln Tower Apartments

City, adjacent property owner both file suits to force owner to make repairs

Structural problems have festered for years at Springfield's tallest apartment building, but court action to fix at least one of the issues at Lincoln Tower Apartments could be coming in the next few months.

The situation – including an inadequate number of working elevators and the city-mandated closure of the deteriorating underground parking garage – has caused headaches for residents of 17-story Lincoln Tower and for city officials tasked with enforcing building codes and protecting the public.

A lack of preventive maintenance at the 110-space underground parking lot serving the 199-unit apartment complex at 520 S. Second St. led to concerns that the ceiling of the structure was potentially dangerous and could someday collapse. The city deemed the underground structure "unsafe and dangerous," then erected barricades in February 2023 to prevent cars from using the underground garage until repairs could be made.

Barricades also bar access to the 65 ground-level parking spots that sit above the garage to prevent more damage to the underground lot's ceiling. The spots surround Lincoln Tower Plaza, 524 S. Second, which is immediately west of Lincoln Tower Apartments.

Access to the ground-level spots were part of the leases of the six-story office building's government and corporate tenants. They rent from the building owner, EMS Midwest LLC, which is operated by Springfield businessman and EMS investor Chris Stone.

Maintenance of the spots is the responsibility of Lincoln Tower, based on a condominium agreement, but the agreement allows Lincoln Tower Plaza to use the spots for its tenants, according to EMS Midwest attorney George Petrilli.

The underground parking lot remains closed, and Lincoln Tower residents who pay extra for parking have had to seek alternative parking in an above-ground, unlit surface lot a few blocks away, at Fourth and Cook streets.

Residents who pay $950 per month for a one-bedroom apartment and $1,400 per month for two- and three-bedroom apartments told Illinois Times their ultimate worry is that the building will be condemned and they will have to move from a desirable location across the street from the Capitol Complex.

The building was constructed in the late 1960s and over the years has been a convenient home for state workers, lobbyists and other downtown residents. Former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan maintained an apartment there for many years.

Greg Moredock, a lawyer who heads the city's legal department, said there's little chance Lincoln Tower residents will have to vacate the premises in the near future. That's because he said the building is structurally sound, the building's water bills are being paid, and the parking garage's problems haven't affected the building.

But the city isn't satisfied with the pace of progress, he said.

"It's just frustrating when we have a non-responsive, out-of-state owner," Moredock said.

The city filed a lawsuit this January in Sangamon County Circuit Court against the building's owners – Lincoln Tower Holdings LLC and Strategic Lincoln LLC, based in Skokie and Lakewood, New Jersey, respectively – to force improvements at the parking garage.

Lincoln Tower Holdings and Strategic Lincoln have owned the 230,000-square-foot building since 2014 and paid $15.8 million for the property, according to Sangamon County records.

The city's lawsuit followed a hearing in a city administrative court at which the owners failed to appear and were ordered to make improvements and pay a $3,750 fine.

The lawsuit remains pending and was complicated by the fact that the owners' lender, Arbor Realty SR Inc., began foreclosure proceedings after the owners defaulted on their 2020 mortgage of $14.8 million.

Chicago lawyer Eric Kaplan, representing the owners, asked the court in April to delay proceedings and any enforcement. Any repairs, he said in court documents, are the responsibility of the company appointed to act as a receiver and look out for the lender's interests.

The court hasn't ruled on Kaplan's requested delay. Neither Kaplan nor a representative of the receiver, Friedman Real Estate in suburban Detroit, responded to phone calls and emails from Illinois Times.

EMS filed its own lawsuit against the building owners in October 2023, and later added Friedman as a defendant, to force repairs or allow EMS to arrange for repairs and make the owners pay for it.

The owners also asked for a delay in this lawsuit because of the foreclosure, but Circuit Judge Ryan Cadagin in April ruled against the owners and set the next hearing in the case for May 30.

Petrilli said EMS hopes the company's lawsuit paves the way for an engineering study so structural work on the underground parking garage can proceed.

Based on informal estimates, he said it would cost $800,000 or $900,000 for below-ground improvements in the garage so EMS tenants could resume use of the above-ground parking spots.

Those same estimates put the cost of repairs to reopen underground parking at $4 million to $5 million or more, Petrilli said.

Petrilli said the city inspected the garage in June 2019 and sent its first "notice of violation" letter to the owners, requiring the owners to submit a timeline within 14 days for completion of repairs. No plan has been submitted, he said.

Lincoln Tower residents would welcome a return of on-site parking, according to Hewitt Douglass, 69, a retired state worker who has lived at the complex for 13 years. The building is less than half-occupied, but that would still mean 80 or 90 people need on-site parking, he said.

The lack of working elevators remains a big concern, but an immediate solution doesn't appear imminent.

Douglass said he and his wife went through a scary time a month ago. Springfield Fire Department and ambulance workers responding to a medical emergency his wife was going through in their 16th floor apartment had to wait 15 minutes for the lone working elevator to return to their floor, he said.

When the elevator arrived, the first responders brought her to the hospital on a gurney. She has since recovered.

"Thank God it wasn't a life-threatening situation," Douglass said. "There are three elevators, but only one works," he said. "About 10 years ago, they started breaking down and stopping. It causes serious delays."

He has complained to the Springfield City Council several times and to Ward 5 Ald. Lakeisha Purchase. Purchase said she was invited to meet with residents and Friedman's building manager at the complex. She went there May 10 and talked with residents, but the manager never showed up to answer their questions.

Douglass said residents aren't blaming the city for the problems, but they hope the city can pressure the complex' owners to tell residents when and whether long-term improvements will be made.

"We are not being given any answers," he said.

Dean Olsen is a senior staff writer at Illinois Times. He can be reached at 217-679-7810, [email protected] or twitter.com/DeanOlsenIT.

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