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Suit alleges Arlington Heights lost mall owner millions
By Rob Olmstead | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 3/28/2009 12:03 AM

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The former owners of an Arlington Heights strip mall sued the village in federal court Friday, seeking more than $5 million for losses allegedly due to the village scaring tenants away.

Ron Popp and Victor Valenti bought the Arlin-Golf mall, a short strip of stores off Arlington Heights Road just north of Golf Road in June 2001, said their attorney Joseph M. Williams.

Contrary to reassurances given by the village before the pair bought the property, Williams claims, the village announced six months later in January 2002 it was creating a tax increment financing district to redevelop the mall and the adjacent International Plaza at Golf and Arlington Heights Road.

In the meantime, Popp and Victor had put money into fixing the place up, which increased the occupancy rate to about 74 percent, Williams said. But the suit claims that village representatives repeatedly told prospective clients they were 60 to 90 days from taking the land by eminent domain and leveling the buildings.

In one case, the suit claims, a tenant the pair managed to land was told by the village that the municipality actually owned the land, which was not true, the suit claims.

Meanwhile, the suit claims the village paid one tenant, Bangkok Cafe, $30,000 to relocate, and other tenants fled, fearing the mall was doomed, Williams said.

Even though the pair could not retain tenants, the taxes on the property went from $27,000 when they bought to $60,000 when they sold late last year.

"The villages, they think they can do anything they want," said Williams.

While warding off prospective tenants, the village failed to ever use eminent domain to take the land, as one deal after another fell through.

Village President Arlene Mulder, who is named in the suit, declined to comment on it because she hadn't seen it.

The village had been trying to put together a deal that would bring a SuperTarget to the whole 35-acre site that includes Arlin-Golf and the International Plaza, but that deal fell through amid failed attempts at land purchases and mounting legal challenges, including a separate lawsuit from Popp.

Popp's new suit claims that by declaring his land blighted and warning away those who might turn it around, the village created a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The village eventually paid $1.6 million for the Arlin-Golf mall, which the suit claims was less than its true $2 million value. Williams claimed Popp and Valenti sold only because of financial threats the village made against them and the fact that they were on the verge of financial ruin.

Additionally, the suit seeks over $5 million in lost rentals and other expenses.