Failed River North development site hits auction block

EB-5 investors sued to get $50M back on aborted project

Symmetry Property Development’s Jeffrey Laytin and the northeast corner of Wabash Avenue and Superior Street (Getty, Symmetry Property Development, LoopNet, Google Maps)

Symmetry Property Development’s Jeffrey Laytin and the northeast corner of Wabash Avenue and Superior Street (Getty, Symmetry Property Development, LoopNet, Google Maps)

The River North site of a failed high-rise project that’s been the subject of a yearslong foreclosure and federal securities lawsuits is now headed to the auction block.

New York-based Symmetry Property Development got $50 million in funding from dozens of EB-5 investors in China to build a 60-story tower featuring both condos and a hotel at the northeast corner of Wabash Avenue and Superior Street, which the developers unveiled plans for in 2017.

In the years since, local opposition hamstrung those plans, and the investors have asked for their money back.

While the foreclosure is likely the fatal blow to Symmetry’s high-rise dreams for the property, it’s just one of their legal woes. Reached via email last week, the attorney representing the Chinese investors, Doug Litowitz, said the developers have come up empty on multiple promises they’ve made to revive the project.

“The two owners of Symmetry insist they will save the property from foreclosure and build on it. Then they will marry Rihanna and Jennifer Lawrence and drive spaceships to their new jobs running the Vatican,” he said in jest.

In March, a Cook County judge ruled in favor of lenders, affiliates of the New York firms Madison Realty Capital and Arena Investors, who filed a foreclosure suit in 2019 alleging that Symmetry owed them more than $20 million, according to previous reports. Shortly after the recent ruling, the duo behind Symmetry, Jeffrey Laytin and Jason Ding, tried to file for bankruptcy protection to prevent the property from being seized through foreclosure.

But the property is now scheduled to be auctioned off by the Cook County Sheriff’s Office on Thursday, public records show. An opening bid hasn’t yet been set, but one would likely have to be higher than the balance of the mortgage being foreclosed for the property to go to another party aside from the lenders.

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Representatives for Madison Realty Capital and Arena Investors did not return requests for comment. Jeffrey Laytin, who runs Symmetry along with Jason Ding, did not respond to a request for comment.

The development first hit a roadblock when 42nd Ward Ald. Brendan Reilly rejected the plans in 2017. Then in 2019, a group of Chinese investors in the project sued Symmetry and asked for almost $50 million back.

The dozens of investors contributed $550,000 each to the project in hopes of getting American visas through the federal EB-5 program, which allows investors in commercial enterprises in the United States to apply for lawful permanent residence in the country.

Laytin agreed to a settlement to pay the investors back almost $50 million in 2020 but eluded payment, according to previous reports. A federal court in September ordered Laytin and Ding to pay the investors almost $28 million.

Arena is Symmetry’s lender on another unbuilt condo project in Hawaii, the site of which is also in foreclosure; the default Arena accused Symmetry of on the Chicago property was triggered by the developer’s alleged default on the Hawaii loan.

At the time the 2019 foreclosure was filed, Symmetry told Crain’s that the developer did not believe the Wabash and Superior property was subject to foreclosure, and that the only foreclosure at issue involved the Hawaii property. The developer said in a statement that it would work with the alderman’s office to get the project approved and believed “it will ultimately be successful in doing so.”

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