Ownership of Chicago Chinatown mall in question after years of unpaid taxes

Property owes more than $2.4M in unpaid taxes

Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi with Chinatown Square Plaza (Twitter, Google Maps)
Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi with Chinatown Square Plaza (Twitter, Google Maps)

A Chinatown shopping center that avoided paying property taxes for more than a decade is dealing with the consequences.

The Chinatown Square Plaza, off South Archer Avenue, amassed a bill of more than $2.4 million for common areas, the Chicago Sun-Times reported. They thought they had a solution: the Cook County Land Bank Authority was ready to bail them out.

Yet before the county officials were able to take ownership — with plans to return it without the debt, a lawyer for the agency said the deal would be an illegal workaround to avoid past-due taxes.

The owners of the square then tried a different approach. They said the property had been overvalued, and Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi agreed, reducing the assessed value of the mall for the previous six years by 60 percent, slashing the bill by $647,000, including interest.

The remaining $1.5 million was auctioned off to the highest bidder at Cook County’s annual scavenger tax sale in February. Used-car dealer Ang Li paid $9,000 in cash to settle the taxes — a price that comes out to just over half a cent for each dollar the mall owed.

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Now, Li has the right to take ownership of the mall’s plaza, corridors and stairways, which worries the mall’s owners. Li says he and his unidentified partners don’t plan to interfere with the mall’s business and only want to make a profit on the investment.

“We know that’s an important piece of real estate for Chinatown,” Li said. “We’re not trying to interrupt any current operation. But we think, as investors, we want to make sure our interests are protected.”

Scavenger sale rules forbid property owners from bidding on their own outstanding taxes or making deals with tax buyers beforehand. Mall officials could block Li from taking ownership of the common areas if they can find a way to pay the $1.5 million in overdue taxes, which is what they’re working toward.

Representatives for Chinatown Square previously said they weren’t aware they had to pay taxes on the common spaces and that they never received any tax bills from 2010 to 2017 — the first seven years of the mall’s lifespan.

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