Catholic nuns on track to get big tax bill from county

Gold Coast high rise may not get free ride after all
October 7, 2008 1:41:34 PM PDT
Cook County Assessor James Houlihan has decided that an order of Catholic nuns and Loyola University do not have tax exempt status on a controversial posh, high-rise building on the Gold Coast. The 53-story Clare at Water Tower 55 E. Pearson St, named for a saint who founded an order of nuns known as the Poor Clares, will be getting a tax bill of nearly $670,000 a year based on Houlihan's $4.7 million assessment, unless they successfully appeal the assessment.

Many of the 253 units have already been sold for up to $1.5 million each with a promise of property tax-free living.

The project was the subject of an ABC7 I-Team report last January.

It's a building that critics say caters only to millionaire senior citizens looking for tax-free real estate; offering "resort-style services and amenities" including gourmet dining, concierge and housekeeping, valet parking, along with an aquatic center, day spa and art gallery.

The new Clare condo owners were told they can live there tax free because it is owned and operated by a non-profit religious organization through a 99-year lease from Loyola University.

"A change of ownership and use triggered the assessment process and The Clare was sent a preliminary notice on September 24th," explained Eric Herman from the Cook County Assessor's Office, "in James Houlihan's eyes, the ownership has changed." While Loyola used the previous building at that address it had an "educational" tax exempt status. The assessor determined that the status of the property has changed as well.

In an e-mail statement provided to the I-Team Thursday evening, Clare spokesman Kevin Rose defended the property tax exemption. "The primary mission of the Clare is to provide a wide range of services to residents and the community, including services specifically designed to meet the needs of the elderly. The Franciscan Sisters of Chicago Service Corporation (FSCSC) believes the Clare property should be exempt from real estate taxes because the Clare is a religious, educational and charitable ministry."

Rose says that The Clare has been "open and consistent in our communication with our prospective residents" and that if they get socked with a hefty county tax bill, "prospective residents have been informed that?this fee would be pass through cost to them."

The Clare spokesman maintains that they "further reinforce this through our resident contracts that are thoroughly reviewed with prospective residents."

Firebrand Chicago political operative Novak was behind an ad campaign aimed at discrediting The Clare. The controversial Novak was working as a hired gun for right-wing Indiana insurance magnate J. Patrick Rooney and Rooney's Fairness Foundation.

"For a church organization to hide behind this tax scam, a tax scam for millionaires, you are denying needed revenue to schools, hospitals and public transportation," Novak told the I-Team when we first reported the story, "Building Resentment" in January.

Novak had purchased commercial time on ABC7 and other broadcast outlets targeting the Franciscan nuns high-rise project.

Owners of The Clare can file for a different type of tax exemption with the Cook County Board of Review whose preliminary determination would be sent to the Illinois Department of Revenue for a final determination. A second option would be to appeal the loss of tax exempt status to Houlihan. His determination would be sent to the Cook County Board of Review. If the ruling is not in The Clare's favor, it can be appealed to the Property Tax Appeal Board.


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