The Watchdogs: West Side liquor-license flap a study in clout
By DAN MIHALOPOULOS AND CHRIS FUSCO Staff Reporters July 12, 2014 3:12AM
The Pete's Fresh Market at 2333 W. Madison is selling liquor despite being within 100 feet of the Greater Bethlehem Healing Temple church. | Chris Fusco/Sun-Times
Updated: August 14, 2014 6:30AM
At last month’s grand opening of a shopping center anchored by a Pete’s Fresh Market grocery, Mayor Rahm Emanuel hailed the supermarket as an oasis in what had been a “food desert” on the West Side.
Besides food, Pete’s also sells liquor — even though the new store is next door to a church, the Greater Bethlehem Healing Temple, and state law bans liquor sales within 100 feet of churches or schools.
So how can Pete’s be selling beer, wine and spirits?
With a little help from influential friends including Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th), who’s gotten tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the grocer in the past two years.
Only a few weeks before the grand opening at 2333 W. Madison, lawmakers in Springfield agreed to exempt Pete’s and a handful of other establishments from the 100-foot law. State Rep. Daniel Burke, D-Chicago, the alderman’s brother, sponsored the bill in the lllinois House and added the language to create the exemption for Pete’s.
Gov. Pat Quinn, a Burke ally, hasn’t yet signed the bill into law.
But the “Royale Liquors” department inside Pete’s already is open for business. That’s because the Emanuel administration granted the store a “contingent” liquor license on June 11 — a license that must be surrendered if the bill doesn’t become law.
The church next door and Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) are urging the governor to veto the measure.
“This facility will be within 75 feet of our church,” Greater Bethlehem Bishop Chester Hudson wrote in a June 5 letter to Quinn. “We have received calls from local politicians and lobbyists on their behalf. Our response has been the same: NO.”
Fioretti said Pete’s executives, who would not comment for this story, “promised at three community meetings that they would never sell alcohol, and people applauded them.”
Besides its new West Side location, Pete’s has a cluster of Southwest Side stores, including stores in Ald. Burke’s ward and Rep. Burke’s legislative district. Rep. Burke said he became aware the business was seeking the 100-foot exemption after getting a call from lobbyist Tim Dart, brother of Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart.
“It was a pretty last-minute issue — the city had portrayed the community as being a food desert, so there was a lot of energy with regard to [Pete’s] starting up there,” Daniel Burke said.
He said he discussed the matter with his brother, the alderman. “He’s concerned about Pete’s Market, no doubt about it,” Rep. Burke said. “They’re a staple in our community. I shop there.”
Ald. Burke, who did not respond to a request for comment, attended the June 18 grand opening.
“Before today, the Near West Side lacked convenient access to fresh, healthy food options,” Emanuel said that day, according to a City Hall news release. “Not only is this Pete’s Fresh Market within easy reach of thousands of Chicago residents, but it is helping to grow employment in an area that needed new, steady jobs.”
The southeast corner of Madison and Western, west of the United Center, previously was vacant. City Hall sold the land to a company run by Pete’s owner James Dremonas, JD Real Estate Inc., in January 2012 for $1 million — $5.5 million less than its appraised value in September 2009, records show.
Dremonas agreed to build a grocery store and additional retail space there at a cost of more than $18 million, and he took out a $10 million loan to finance construction.
Since September 2012, Pete’s and JD Real Estate have contributed a total of $55,250 to campaign committees controlled by Ald. Burke, state records show.
Quinn and the alderman are longtime friends. Burke campaign committees helped bankroll the governor’s 2010 election campaign with more than $300,000 in loans and contributions.
The legislation in Springfield to exempt the West Side Pete’s from the 100-foot rule says: “The alderman of the ward in which the premises are located has expressed, in writing, his or her support for the issuance of the [liquor] license.”
The measure didn’t make clear, though, which alderman. The store is now in Fioretti’s ward.
But under a new ward map that will be used in next year’s Chicago City Council election, the Pete’s-anchored shopping strip becomes part of the 27th Ward. That ward’s alderman, Walter Burnett, started clearing the way for the liquor license in February, lifting a moratorium on liquor sales in an area including the site.
A few weeks later, Pete’s applied to the Emanuel administration for a liquor license. City officials emailed Fioretti’s office, and the church and other neighbors also were notified, according to the mayor’s office, which said no one raised an objection within the 35-day public comment period that ended April 24.
On June 11, City Hall granted the conditional license — a move Burnett supports. “I want them to be successful and competitive with everybody else,” he said of the new Pete’s.
Asked whether Quinn plans to let the Pete’s exemption become law, spokeswoman Katie Hickey said: “The bill is currently on the governor’s desk, and he will carefully review it. Our office has received the letter [from the church pastor], and it will be included in the governor’s bill-review process.”
Burnett said Ald. Burke asked him to make the case for liquor sales at Pete’s to church leaders and that Hudson, the pastor, refused to meet with Pete’s executives. Hudson did not return calls for comment.
“I hope this can be worked out,” Burnett said. “Pete’s has been good for the community.”