Doctor: City playing unfair

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//img-Gifa7jWQLi.jpg’, ‘Photo by Paul Marek’, ‘Dr. Gautam Gupta, owner of the D.J. Stewart parking garage on Elm Street, compares deterioration to the City-owned Barber-Colman property and wonders if he is being singled out and threatened with $750 per day fines when the city property is also in poor condition. Also at issue is the comparable value of the Brown Building/Amcore parking lot to Gupta’s parking deck and adjacent property.’);

City says Dr. Gautam Gupta is not being singled out with notice of unsafe structure

Dr. Gautam Gupta, owner of the Nutrition Clinic of Rockford, said all he wants is to be treated fairly after the city ordered him to repair his crumbling downtown property at the corner of West State, North Church and Elm streets.

The city issued a notice of unsafe structure June 17 and ordered Gupta to secure all exterior walls and ensure that all windows were in sound condition by June 25 or face a fine of up to $750 per day. The notice was issued after the city inspected the property and found large chunks of cement and broken and shattered windows on the sidewalk. The inspection was in response to a referral to the Property Standards Division.

John Strandin, communications director for the City of Rockford, said there were a number of complaints filed against Gupta’s property, but the city does not release the names of those who submit complaints.

“The city is threatening with all kinds of legal actions, but it’s not doing anything with its own buildings,” Gupta said June 24 at a press conference outside the Barber-Colman Village on Rock Street just off South Main Street.

Gupta, who has begun repairing the old D.J. Stewart garage at 315 Elm St., suggested the city was guilty of imposing a double standard—ordering him to clean up his property while the city’s own property sits in disrepair.

Fallen cement, shattered windows and broken glass were evident outside the six-story Barber-Colman building at the press conference June 24. The city purchased the 26-acre property in 2002 for $750,000 and in April 2004 announced plans to create a master plan for the site with Hendricks Properties of Beloit.

“It’s obviously a hazard, and I was wondering what the city was doing about it,” Gupta said.

The city issued the following response June 24: “Much of the Barber-Colman building is surrounded by chain-link fence to keep people away. While there is a small amount of broken glass on a couple sidewalk squares adjacent to one of the buildings, there is no indication that chunks of the building are about to fall on a public sidewalk.”

As was evident at the press conference, the north side of the Barber-Colman complex on Loomis Street is not fenced in. The sidewalk was littered with broken glass and crumbled cement, and a piece of cement about 2 feet in length was jutting out from the building about 9 feet above the sidewalk, appearing as if a brisk wind could send it tumbling to the ground. Computers and light fixtures were also visible inside the building through a shattered window on Loomis Street.

William Keith, superintendent of property and equipment for the City of Rockford, said a staff of three completes rounds of the Barber-Colman, Ingersoll and Davis Park grounds every day. He said windows of the Barber-Colman building are shattered daily and are repaired on a regular basis.

“Every day we do upkeep on the buildings,” Keith said. “The buildings are old, and they’re going to be in some disrepair.”

Strandin said the main difference between Gupta’s property and the Barber-Colman building is that the cement surrounding the windows on Gupta’s property was deteriorating, making the windows capable of falling out entirely.

Additionally, Strandin said Gupta’s property, bordered by the MetroCentre, the Winnebago County Courthouse and Downtown Discount Drug, is located on a “heavily traveled sidewalk in the downtown area,” while the city’s Barber-Colman building, located next to the South Main Street Gray’s IGA, is in an industrial area.

Gupta said he believes the city is singling him out in an attempt to “coerce” him into selling his property to the city. The city offered to purchase the 37,000-square-foot property for $137,000 based on an appraisal conducted by Charles Davidson & Associates, which also appraised the land for the Perryville Road extension. The city wants to build flat-level parking on the property.

Gupta’s own appraisal of the property, conducted by Appraisal Research Inc., puts the value of the property at $645,000, much more in line with the value of similar properties in the downtown area such as the 29,000-square-foot parking lot across the street from the Brown Loft Apartments, which the city recently purchased for $600,000 using a state grant.

A recent editorial in the local daily suggested the sale of the Brown lot may represent a conflict of interest as the owners of the Brown lot—William Charles Ltd. and First Rockford Group—were two of Mayor Doug Scott’s largest campaign contributors. Yet, Strandin said Gupta has also contributed to Scott’s campaigns in the past and has served as a landlord for one of his campaign offices.

Gupta said he may have contributed $50 at a Scott fund-raiser in the past and can’t remember whether Scott’s campaign ever occupied any of his buildings. The Illinois Campaign Disclosure Web site showed Gupta made two contributions for a total of $535 to local attorney Larry Morrissey’s campaign for mayor in 2001. No contributions to Scott’s campaign were listed.

“It’s unfortunate that this has turned out like this because I know that the mayor and Dr. Gupta have had a pretty good relationship in the past,” Strandin said. “The sale of the Brown lot and the offer made to Dr. Gupta were based on independent real estate appraisals. If the city and Dr. Gupta can’t agree on a fair value of that property, it will be decided in court.”

The city’s June 24 response stated: “For Dr. Gupta to argue that he is being singled out is incorrect. The City of Rockford responds to possible code violations on a complaint basis. The City investigates and takes action on thousands of building code and property standards violations each year.”

The battle between Gupta and the city has been brewing for nearly a year. Gupta, who owns numerous downtown properties, most prominently the Trust Building at the corner of Wyman and West State streets, was cited by the city in August 2003 for unkept property. Gupta was ordered to plant trees and grass on the property or face a fine. Gupta complied with the city and was later threatened with eminent domain.

Gupta is threatening to sue the occupants of the D.J. Stewart garage for any damages to the property, and had given them until June 28 to vacate the premises. Gupta alleged that the MetroCentre, the City of Rockford and On The Waterfront (OTW) were all occupying parts of the building.

Becky Genoways, CEO of OTW, said in August 2003 that OTW used to use the top floor of the five-story building for storage, but moved out a few years ago. Mike Walsh, MetroCentre director of operations, said in August 2003 that the MetroCentre was still using part of the building for storage.

Strandin said: “The city and OTW don’t have anything in that building. I don’t know what he’s talking about. I don’t believe the city has ever used the building.” Strandin also said he had spoken with MetroCentre staff who assured him they would be working to vacate the building in accordance with Gupta’s request.

Gupta said he ultimately does not want to fight the city and would like to be afforded the time to develop a hotel and fitness center on the property. He said since the property is located in a Tax Increment Financing district, he will need the city’s cooperation before he can proceed with the plans. Strandin said Gupta and Scott have been meeting to discuss Gupta’s plans for the property.

“I’m a man of limited resources,” Gupta said. “It’s difficult to fight the city. That lot is absolutely critical to the development of downtown.”

Editor’s note: Dr. Gautam Gupta is the owner of several prominent downtown properties, including 128 N. Church St., offices of The Rock River Times.

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!