Vista sues gallery for stalling West Loop office project

Primitive gallery owners accused of seeking payout from developer

Vista Property's Hymie Mishan and Saul Sutton and Primitive Gallery's Glen Joffe with rendering of 601-609 West Randolph Street and 130 North Jefferson Street
Vista Property's Hymie Mishan and Saul Sutton and Primitive Gallery's Glen Joffe with rendering of 601-609 West Randolph Street and 130 North Jefferson Street (Vista Property, LinkedIn, Google Maps, Getty)

Hymie Mishan and Saul Sutton likely won’t be strolling over to buy any art from the longtime Chicago gallerists next door to their new West Loop office building.

Vista Property, the New York-based developer co-founded by Mishan and Sutton, is suing the owners of the four-story Primitive gallery at 130 North Jefferson Street, accusing the collectors of granting, and then suddenly yanking, access to their roof while contractors were working on the 15-story office project at 601 West Randolph Street.

The dispute is holding up construction on the 88,000-square-foot project. This is Vista’s first ground-up development in Chicago and it’s funding it with a $31 million loan from Bank OZK that was issued in January 2021.

That deal was a rare show of confidence in the office market during the darker days of the pandemic, one of few new office buildings pursued on speculation, in a city mired in vacant commercial real estate. Vista doubled down late last year and unveiled plans to build another 15-story office building down the road at 640 West Randolph, this one 117,000 square feet.

Now, with the first property more than 70 percent pre-leased, Vista says Glen Joffe and partner Claudia Ashleigh-Morgan — the operators of Primitive who were convicted in 2006 by federal wildlife authorities of conspiring to illegally import and possessing ivory and other items derived from protected species — have imperiled the developer’s financing on the tower by revoking its access to their roof. The developer said in its lawsuit its project had to reach “substantial completion” last month under its agreement with Bank OZK.

At this point, Vista needs the roof access again to finish construction and can’t complete its project without it, and asked a judge to issue an injunction allowing contractors to return to the roof of Primitive’s building.

Primitive is just after a payout to reinstate the access, Vista alleged, noting its contractors had accessed the roof without incident from October 2020 into the fall of 2021. The parties were negotiating the dispute outside of court prior to Vista filing the lawsuit, and the gallerists may be open to resuming talks, said their attorney Richard G. Douglass.

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The gallerists refused to consider reasonable compromises and “exhibit a callous and knowing disregard for plaintiff and their business interests,” Vista said in its lawsuit.

Primitive, though, disagrees, and filed a counterclaim alleging Vista “severely damaged” the gallery’s roof during “unauthorized construction activities.” Joffe and Ashleigh-Morgan said they never agreed to let the developer access their gallery’s roof and only discovered it had been getting accessed in August 2021, when the gallery reopened for business from pandemic shutdowns.

The collectors, who have been in the space since 2003, are pursuing punitive damages against Vista, claiming it wants to “punish” the firm and “deter other developers from trying to steamroll over their neighbors who have been established in the neighborhood for decades.” Joffe and Ashleigh-Morgan also noted they’ve been doing business on the property “long before the West Loop’s recent explosive development.”

Reached by phone, Mishan had no immediate comment, and an attorney for Vista declined to comment.

The lawsuit is still moving through Cook County court before Associate Judge David B. Atkins.

This story has been updated to clarify the wildlife charges Joffe and Ashleigh-Morgan were convicted of in 2006.

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