Urban Equity threatens legal action over Hanley fire allegations

By Jim Hagerty

ROCKFORD — As rumors swirl about the nature of the fire that gutted the downtown Hanley Building last Sunday, the attorney for developer Urban Equity Properties (UEP) says he is prepared to take legal action.

Attorney Jeff Orduno told The Times Friday he is aware of several allegations made on social media that Urban Equity President and CEO Justin Fern was directly connected to the blaze.

“As to everyone who has arguably defamed Justin, Urban Equity Properties LLC, and/or Hanley Lofts LLC on social media or elsewhere, you have until July 3, 2017 to retract your libel and slander or make an apology,” Orduno said.

Allegations against UEP have been made on social media throughout the week. Some users have accused Fern of deliberately setting fire to the building to collect insurance proceeds or in exchange for political favors, allegations Orduno says are false and actionable.

“By July 5, 2017, I am suing everyone who stands by their defamatory blather by leaving it posted or not retracting it. Everyone,” the attorney said.

Magpie restaurant owner Stephanie Caltagerone turned to Facebook Thursday, voicing her concern about the inability to access her building following heavy rains that left parts of Rockford under water this week.

“Thanks to Urban Equity Properties, Justin Fern and Gary Anderson our building has sustained 3 more days of damage and we are expecting more rain this evening,” Caltagerone posted. “There is an enormous amount of standing water on our roof due to the debris from the building next-door clogging o(u)r drain.”

Orduno said while he sympathizes with Caltagerone and others affected by the fire, the decision to seal the area was made by the fire department. It was not an attempt to block Magpie or adjacent businesses from operating.

Caltagerone said Friday afternoon that damage to her business is only mounting the longer she remains closed – and that UEP is to blame.

“There is triple the amount of water damage to my business because Justin halted demolition,” she said.

Urban Equity Properties employees and Rockford Fire Department officials look on as RFD fights a blaze at the Hanley Building, downtown June 25.
Urban Equity Properties employees and Rockford Fire Department officials look on as RFD fights a blaze at the Hanley Building, downtown, June 25. File

Fern Thursday filed a motion in county court to halt demolition as his company sought to further evaluate the feasibility of saving the structure. That was tossed out by the court, and the city says the demolition is on course with their original schedule.

Oruno said Caltagerone’s statement regarding the demolition process is beyond the scope of fact and logic.

“Stephanie Caltagerone is a bully,” Orduno said. “She thinks that works with everyone. Not so much.”

UEP and the building’s owner Hanley Lofts stand to take massive losses, Fern said. That includes the cost of building, staff time and demolition. The City of Rockford says demolition will cost $500,000, which it plans to recoup from Fern’s companies.

Fern said the redevelopment process on the former furniture store was set to begin in a month. His company will look for a replacement project.

“We were about to go in front of city council,” Fern said of the planned $9 million Hanley apartment building project. “There were a few minor things to clear up, but everything was ready to go.”

The Rock River Times will have more on this story, including full interviews with Fern and Caltagerone, in Wednesday’s print edition.

As of this report, demolition of the Hanley Building has commenced with the sign on the Main Street sign being removed Friday afternoon. Another small fire was spotted on the second floor as crews continued work on the building. R.

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