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United Center and parking lots aerial view

An aerial view of the United Center. While White Sox and Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf pursues $1 billion in state funding for a new baseball stadium in the South Loop, he’s spending big to gobble up lots around the Bulls’ home.

Lee Hogan for the Chicago Sun-Times

Why is Jerry Reinsdorf spending millions buying up parking lots around the United Center?

As White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf seeks $1 billion in taxpayer funding for a new ballpark in a planned mixed-use district in the South Loop, his associates have spent millions of dollars buying parking lots run by his competitors to build what could be a similar district around the United Center.

Over the past 19 months, a Reinsdorf-connected company has spent $44.7 million buying vacant lots from two politically connected families that have long offered discounted parking deals to fans of the Bulls and Blackhawks, records examined by the Chicago Sun-Times show. A third family has refused to sell its parking lots.

More than half of that money has been paid to family-owned companies connected to longtime Bridgeport businessman Joseph Feldman Sr., whose late sister headed the political campaign fund for former Mayor Richard M. Daley.

Reinsdorf, who is also chairman of the Bulls, and the Wirtz family, which owns the Blackhawks, co-own the United Center, which they built 30 years ago without any government financing. Both teams have since built practice facilities near the arena, which is a major catalyst for economic development on the West Side.

Jerry Reinsdorf

Chicago White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf walks across the field before a baseball game against the Cleveland Indians Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017, in Chicago.

Charles Rex Arbogast

United Center officials aren’t talking about their development plans for the parking lots — neither the lots that surround the United Center nor those they recently bought, buying them from businesses that have run afoul of City Hall inspectors over the years for various problems.

Asked about the parking lot purchases, a spokesperson for United Center Joint Venture says: “Of course, the United Center is looking to the future and the potential for development around our campus. But it would be premature to discuss specifics at this time.”

There are plans for redevelopment, according to Ald. Walter Burnett (27th), whose ward includes the United Center. But Burnett won’t talk about those, saying nothing has been formally presented to City Hall. Burnett says he isn’t sure whether the plans have changed following the death of Blackhawks chairman Rocky Wirtz in July.

“I don’t want the community to think it’s a done deal,” Burnett says. “I would like them to do something with all those lots. Personally, I wish they’d built an enclosed parking lot. They don’t even use all their lots any more” since many fans take ride shares to concerts and games.

This means four of Chicago’s professional sports teams — the Bears, Blackhawks, Bulls and White Sox — are working on plans to redevelop or move their stadium sites.

The United Center’s buying spree started after the owners of Red Top Parking sold some vacant land they had owned for three decades on the southeast corner of Paulina Street and Warren Boulevard, a few blocks east of the arena.

map of parking lots

RE Holdings Group, a company connected to Reinsdorf, bought several lots from Red Top Parking owner Dolores Secor, even more from Feldman family businesses and another from Semir Sirazi, a former part-owner of The 78.

Justin Myers

Red Top owner Dolores Secor sold the property on Feb. 24, 2022, to three developers — Campus Construction Co., Immobiliare Western LLC and Magnum Homes — with each paying $1,197,000.

“We didn’t have any plans, probably residential,” Campus owner Stephen Talty says. Pamela McCarthy of Immobiliare says she can’t remember this deal, while the other developer, Seamus Murnin of Magnus Homes, won’t discuss it.

Campus, Immobiliare and Magnum cashed out five months later, selling the land in August 2023 to RE Holdings Group LLC — a four-month-old company created by White Sox senior vice president Howard Pizer and senior vice president of stadium operations Terry Savarise.

RE Holdings paid $5.5 million for the land, with each developer getting $1,833,500, a 53% profit.

A few days later, RE Holdings closed another deal, paying $2.5 million on Aug. 17, 2022, for a lot owned by Semir Sirazi at 2033 W. Madison, just west of the United Center.

Sirazi is a former business partner of Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s political fixer, Tony Rezko, who went to prison for taking kickbacks on state deals. Sirazi and Rezko once held stakes in the 62-acre site now called The 78, where Reinsdorf hopes to build a new home for the White Sox.

Sirazi couldn’t be reached for comment.

RE Holdings struck two deals with the Feldmans in July. The Reinsdorf group paid $17.2 million for about half of a square block southwest of the United Center. They also put $7.5 million into an escrow account until they complete the purchase of 15 other pieces of land by Feb. 27, 2026, according to documents filed with the Cook County clerk. Meanwhile, the Feldmans can keep parking cars on those 15 parcels.

While the Feldmans have collected $24.7 million, the final sale price “is significantly more money,” according to their attorney Rodney Slutzky.

“It was so much money, they couldn’t turn it down,” Slutzky says. “They’re selling off all of their holdings around the United Center.”

It’s unclear how much money the Feldmans paid for those vacant lots, many purchased following construction of the United Center and demolition of the Chicago Stadium. The Feldmans owned lots around the stadium, too.

The Feldman family has long ties to the Daleys and Bridgeport. Joseph Feldman Sr. is the brother of the late Patricia Kilroe, who was chairman of Daley’s campaign fund for years. Kilroe had married Daley cousin Thomas McGinnis. Their daughter is Cook County Judge Sheila McGinnis.

The Feldman family published the Bridgeport News for three generations, until Joseph Feldman Jr. closed it during the pandemic, selling the building to the Ramova Theatre developers for $1,285,000.

His father had owned the formerly abandoned theater for many years as City Hall inspectors repeatedly cited him for building code violations. He sold the shuttered theater to the city for $285,000 two decades ago. City Hall sold the empty theater for $1 three years ago to developers who renovated and recently opened it.

The Feldman family also owned one of the hundreds of dump trucks that were part of Daley’s Hired Truck Program. Daley scrapped the program in 2006 following a Sun-Times investigation that found City Hall spent $40 million hiring trucks that did little or no work on city construction projects while giving money to the campaigns of the mayor and other politicians. A federal investigation led to criminal convictions of 48 people, including city officials and truck owners. The Feldmans were never accused of any crime.

RE Holdings completed its most recent deal on Dec. 13, paying $12 million for nine vacant lots Secor owned in the 1600 block of West Madison Street.

Secor didn’t return calls. The Park Ridge woman’s family owns several other pieces of land near the United Center.

While the Feldman and Secor families have cashed in, the smallest independent operator, Peoples Stadium Parking, turned down an $8 million offer for its land, according to Ronald Shudnow, an attorney whose family has owned the company for decades. He says part of the reason is the capital gains taxes they might have to pay.

Shudnow says he doesn’t know why Reinsdorf’s interests are trying to buy the parking lots.

“They shouldn’t consider us a threat,” Shudnow says. “What they don’t like about us is we always charge less than they do. We always try to keep it $3 under them.”

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