Can You Smell The Meat A’Cookin’?


Back in the 1960s the Illinois Secretary of State was a fellow named Paul Powell, who had a propensity for accumulating unexplained cash – over $800,000, back when that was “real” money – in shoeboxes in the closet of his hotel suite in Springfield.   Powell’s pet phrase when describing a sweetheart deal (at the taxpayers’ expense, of course) was: “I can smell the meat a’cookin’.”

Those in attendance at Monday night’s City Council meeting might have caught more than a whiff of cooking meat as Fourth Ward Ald. Jim “Billboards” Allegretti did his best (or worst, depending on your point of view) to seal the deal on zoning text amendments that would permit Generation Group, Inc. (“GGI”) to put up four billboards along the Tollway by the Renaissance office plaza, which could bring the City $400,000 down and another $184,000 over the next 20 years.

“Billboards” has been GGI’s go-to guy on this matter since it was brought to the Council back in June, and by the August 17 meeting he was leading Alds. Robert Ryan (5th) and Frank Wsol (7th) in their successful 3-2 vote – over the opposition of Alds. DiPietro and Sweeney, with Alds. Bach and Carey absent – to make the City, instead of GGI, the applicant for the zoning code text amendments needed for the billboards, ostensibly because with the City as the applicant the Council had the power to trump any unfavorable decision on the application by the Planning & Zoning Commission (“P&Z”) that it did not have if GGI was the applicant.

But perhaps the more significant difference between the City being the applicant and GGI being the applicant, although not mentioned by “Billboards,” was what we identified in our post of November 9:

Carrying the water for GGI in this matter is 4th Ward Ald. Jim Allegretti, who seems hell-bent on changing City ordinances to enable the City Council to trump P&Z decisions about billboards.  And he appears to be “gaming” the process by getting the City to be the applicant rather than GGI, which allows GGI to avoid the disclosure requirements under the City’s ethics ordinance [pdf] that were adopted at the April 2, 2007 City Council meeting [pdf] in the face of accusations by then-mayor (and Allegretti puppeteer) Howard Frimark that more-stringent disclosures were “motivated by politics rather than integrity.”

With the City as the applicant, GGI has been able to avoid the required disclosure of the identities of its directors, officers and those shareholders holding a larger than 3% stake in the company.  And such disclosures might be problematic for GGI, especially in view of its ties – through, at minimum, the mutual involvement of Joseph Loss – with Premier Outdoor, Inc., the company that in 2003 got a deal with Des Plaines for up to 10 billboards, and whose officials back then included Loss, former Crook County undersheriff and convicted felon James Dvorak, and convicted felon Joseph P. Nicosia, Jr.  

But all these curious circumstances don’t necessarily mean that GGI’s proposed billboard deal with Park Ridge is kinked up.  “Billboards” Allegretti might actually be telling the truth when he insists that his keen interest in this billboard deal is simply to get $600,000 in revenue for the City’s beleaguered treasury.

After all, “Billboards” is the proven fiscal conservative who:

* voted for giving away $270,000 of taxpayers’ money to private community groups, even as the City was facing a $2 million budget deficit;

* voted for giving $2.4 million over 15 years to Napleton Cadillac, even as it was closing down its operations;

* wanted to build a new $16 million-plus police station without even holding a referendum;

* opposed passing on $400,000 of water rate increases to water users, thereby forcing the City to eat all those costs; and

* opposes the reinstatement of the City’s debt ceiling.

Just passing through the water rate increase would get the City the same $400,000 of up-front cash that it will get from the GGI deal.  And according to a story in the Sept. 22, 2004, edition of The Journal (“Convicted Felon Linked To Firm That Won Billboard Rights From Des Plaines”), two-sided billboards like the ones being sought by GGI “can fetch as much as $12,000 per month” for each of the two sides.  If those figures are still accurate, that means GGI can expect to generate $1,152,000 from its four Park Ridge billboards…each year! 

So why, exactly, is “Billboards” Allegretti so intent on locking Park Ridge into a deal that will get it a measly $30,000 a year, on average – just 2.6% of GGI’s annual take?   

Stop over at City Hall at 7:30 p.m. on January 18, 2010, when this item is next on the City Council’s agenda, take a sniff or two, and maybe you’ll catch the scent of pot roast in the air. 

24 comments so far

While I am not in complete agreement with some of those who are against billboards, I can certainly understand their position. If someone lives in a neighborhood that is close by these signs they, of course, will not want them.

For those who are so strongly against billboards in a very limited area of town, I need to ask a question. Do you feel the same way about any potential development along Higgins? Multi-story buildings and increased traffic will have an affect on neighborhoods that are up and down higgins.

In the interest of full disclosure let me say that I do not live in a neighborhood that would be directly affected by billoboards or higgins development. It just seems to me those who object have a great deal in common. If one finds a few billboards in an office complex to be so outrageous a multi- story hotel would seem to be unacceptable as well.

I also don’t live near the proposed billboard site or near the Higgins corridor, so neither the billboards nor a multi-story hotel would be in my back yard. But I don’t see anything in common between a bunch of billboards and a hotel except, maybe, their height.

A five-story hotel is basically the height of the Uptown condos, but I would be shocked to hear that a majority of the people who live north of Uptown would prefer 4 billboards to the condos. And even though I don’t live near Uptown, either, I would definitely prefer the condos to billboards.

I would also prefer a hotel to billboards for the financial benefits that a hotel can provide with property taxes, occupancy taxes, and the other consumption and business that hotel guests can generate.

It’s like dega vu all over again.

I just watched the videos and do I understand right that Allegretti put this forward to the Zoning commission on behalf of Generation Group? I thought from the Frimark insurance sale we were told elected officials can’t act as agents or represent anyone who is requesting consideration from the city or the zoning commission either.

Am I missing something?

anon 4:14:

If I could only choose one I would also pick the hotel but actually, as long as the deal is done properly with nothing under the table, and the numbers work, I do not have a real problem with either of them.

In terms of what they have in common, they both have a direct affect on the neighborhoods in which they would be located. The folks who live on NW HWY near the proposed site of the billboards are up in arms but so are those who live along higgins corridor related to potential development (hotels etc). You may rather have a hotel than a billboard but their opinion may be different. They may look at increased traffic etc and say they would rather have a billboard.

So are you going to tell the folks along higgins that they have no reasonable objections or that it is just a part of life in one breath while screaming about billboards ruining a neignhborhood in the next???

According to an article in today’s Chicago Tribune, the Wyndham O’Hare is closing 1/1/10 and the Sheraton Chicago Northwest & CoCo Key Water Resort in Arlington Heights are closing 12/28/09. The article quoted someone as saying “…O’Hare area is the 3rd worst market in America for hotels…” I guess stranger things have happened, but I’d be surprised if ground is broken anytime soon for a hotel on Higgins.

When did this become about billboards v. a hotel? Nobody’s talking about putting a hotel in the the Renaissance office plaza, or about putting billboards in the Higgins Corridor.

This is just about billboards at Renaissance, either they’re legal or they’re not, either we want them or we don’t. Nothing to do with hotels or Higgins Corridor, so can the distractions and focus on the issue.


I guess on some level you are correct. Another poster also mentioned that it would appear that a hotel in the near future is unlikely which would appear to be true.

I would simply point out to you that all I did was pose a question based on one of the main arguments put forward against billboards (negative affect on a neighborhood). My point was that the same would apply to those who live near higgins and when ever there has been any discussion by them about traffic or negative affects on their neighborhood the bsically have received a “stop whinning” beat down.

It was simply a point of discussion on a blog and please accept my apology if you found it a distraction.

anon 2:08 pm –

Unless I’m missing something that, judging from the MOtionbox video of Monday night’s meeting, Mayor Schmidt and the Council are also missing, there is no comparison between billboards and a hotel.

Billboards will not generate any property taxes, unlike a hotel; and billboards won’t generate any other taxes, unlike the occupancy taxes a hotel can generate. On the other hand, billboards won’t generate extra traffic like a hotel will.  The only “negative effect” of the billboards cited by the Renaissance neighbors has been the light they give off and their appearance.

The Council is actually taking action on the billboards, but a hotel isn’t even being considered by city Staff or the Council. So exactly why are you bringing up a hotel at all?


Again, I am sorry if my post(s) caused a problem for you. They were purely for the purposes of discussion. As an observer I saw several things that made me scratch my head.

1. In the past there have been discussions about development on higgins and when those who live there bring up how it might be a negative for the neigborhood they generally get beat on.

2. People bring up the same general point related to billbaords in a very limited area of town and suddenly the negative affect is a valid point.

I observed these general reactions on the blogs so I brought it up. Nothing more and nothing less – there is no agenda. It just seems odd to me. Oh well. Happy New Year!!

The real issue here folks is this,

Currently, our ordinance does NOT allow for “billboards”. The first question is……
Do we want to change the ordinance via a text amendment to allow them? Be careful how you answer, as this get’s a little tricky.

This “text amendment” has been put forward by the “CITY” as the applicant, however, the concept was not initiated by the “City” but rather a “special interst developer” offering an “incentive” to change the ordinance FOR THEM, using an Alderman to do their bidding for them, all the leg work and argueing, all the while being able to be sheilded from having to do what any other applicant would have to do. Like actually answer questions, disclose financials, and the general scrutinay that any text amendment would need to go through.

The second part of that answer is, and I encourage everyone to do a little lite reading on this, is look into Mr. Loss’s past business dealings and how they were handled, and decide if “we” as a City think that this is a good fit for us.

Pitting one side of town against the other, is really just rediculous! Or telling someone that the area in which they purchased their home is in some way inferrior and that they deserve to have their neighborhood ruined is absolutly the purest definition of IGNORANT and just plain stupid!!


There is nothing in your post that I disagree with. I guess I would just again ask does that mean that if/when there is a hotel or other development for higgins and neighbors go nuts about it you will support their effort to stop the development??

I don’t particularly care if they put billboards up by 294 or a hotel on Higgins. What bothers me about this billboard deal is how strongly its being pushed by Allegretti and supported by two members of the law firm he offices with, Frank DiFranco and Jeff Wilson, at 617 Devon.

Is it possible Allegretti, DiFranco and Wilson are investors in the billboards?


The only question is if the billboards are a good deal for Park Ridge. If the answer is yes then who cares if they make money off the deal?


If the developement was asking for unresonable consideration of the ordinance, and as a result it had an obvious negative impact neighboring properties, then yes I would support the effort to stop it, or at least hold it to within the ordinance.

Howeve I am reminded of comments from our economic director, which stated that the property in which you speak of that a proposed hotel Would go on, was NOT enough property for a hotel chain to develope. So barring execising eminent domaine of the surrounding neighbors properties to errct a hotel, your initial question then becomes a no brainer!


Queston for you….

Were you equally annoyed by the neighbors of the properties that surrounded the EOP developement, when they (as you put it) “went nuts” over that?
The way I remember it, plenty of residents who weren’t impacted by that came out in support of those who were.

Perhaps you have reserved a different outlook, and based your questions on particular locations, such as outlying or boarder neighborhoods. Do they deserve less input on what goes on around them, or is only for selected neighborhoods?

Just asking.

anon 12:46:

I am not annoyed by people going nuts over these issues or the EOP issue. Annoying is actually way to strong a word for what I am trying to say. I just find the inconsistency to be very interesting.

Of course I do not know a single person who runs or posts on these blogs. Most, like me post using an anonymous screen name or not their real name so I do not know each individauls position on these issues.

I just have a perception that when it comes to development on higgins the general opinion expressed here is go for it!!! Issues related to the neighborhoods are discounted. As I recall, someone even suggested exploring taking over private land if necessary. Yet related to four billboards going up in an office complex the general opinion seems to be that the neighborhoods should now carry a huge weight – Oh my god save the neighborhoods!!!!!

Holy crap! Do you people even get the point of the original post?

Thank you, anonymous 11:29 am.

Are some of you commentators like “anon”s 12.23.09 1:15 pm, 12.23.09 5:46 pm, 12.26.09 2:08 pm, 12.27.09 8:56 am, 12.27.09 10:30 am, 12.27.09 12:15 pm, and 12.28.09 9:36 am (same person?) just a little slow, or are you intentionally trying to divert attention away from the point of the post, which seems to be is the fix in?

I think I get the point of the original post. A businessman/lawyer with a legislative interest found and secured a council “chinaman” to carry his water instead of making a direct application to the planning and zoning commission.

The process looks suspicious since the council “chinaman” is fighting very hard to get the businessman/lawyer exactly what he wants and letting the businessman/lawyer circumvent the process of disclosure required for applicants seeking special consideration from the city.

The suspicion includes whether or not the council “chinaman” and others are in for a penny or in for a pound, with references to cooking meat at the taxpayer’s expense.

Do I have it right, so far?

What isn’t addressed in the original post is what, exactly, is the expense (if any) to taxpayers? The water being carried by the council “chinaman” comes with promises of $400K down and another $200K+/- upon a 20 yr. “delivery.” Will the billboards generate extra traffic? Will the billboards cost taxpayers property tax revenue? Will any activity surrounding the billboards increase noise in the area? Will the billboards require the potential use of eminent domain?

I believe it would be fair to say the answer to each of the above questions is no.

However, I also believe it would be fair to say the expense to taxpayers is far steeper yet more intangible than recognized. Aside from the aesthetic complaints (valid, in my opinion) about what is being proposed, and the way it is being proposed, comes at the very expensive cost of the taxpayer’s trust in the system and their local government.

Park Ridge suffered through 4 long and painful years of insider deals being cooked up behind closed doors under Howard P. Frimark, while at the same time suffering the neglect of city government’s attention to real, tangible if less than exciting issues which have a very real impact on daily life. Any trust in local government by the taxpayers is, at best at this point, tenuous and touchy. Anything which adds to the further erosion of that trust comes at a price far too steep than any benefit which could be gained from such maneuvering by those enjoying an inside position and/or connections, even when on the surface the city could stand to make modest financial gains from any given deal.

The billboard proposal is a clear sign the Park Ridge zoning code is “for sale,” at least by those who don’t hold the public trust as sacred. However, I think it’s fair to say, when you become willing to sell one part of your local government process and ordinances for money, it’s a very small step to begin selling others. The decision making process in one area of local government cannot be considered in a vaccuum, as if there are no implications for any other local government process.

Any fear some people might have of being sold out, or the inconsistency they view in the arguments being made against one issue but not another, seem to me to be legitimate and worthy of consideration.


1:02PM… well said.

I am the anon you were refering to. I guess you caught me. I am part of the vast billboard conspiracy taking place right under your nose here in PR. How much more paranoid can you get????? Are you checking your sugar bowl for microphones??

If you subtract the posts by me that you mentioned as well as the replies to those posts what are you left with?? Go ahead and count all the posts about the fix being in. Apparently, the just couldn’t get a word in with 18 posts in 6 days.

A few things……First, as I stated in another post I want the transaction to be above board with nothing under the table or potentail revenue left on the table.

Second, can someone please tell me where the 12,000 per billboard side comes from? I am not saying that that number is incorrect but I can find nothing that would even come close to supporting that kind of rate. It makes for a compelling case and a horrible looking percentage (2.6%) but is it true?? From what I can see those billboards would rent for less that 5K per face. Go to The package everything but they quot figures of 2000 per face in the Chicago market. Depending on which one of these numbers is accurate that makes about a 750,000 difference.


You are right about the loss of trust in local government possibly being more consequential than any money that might be made on the billboards deal. Which is why it looks so crooked to have the Council be the applicant so Loss and his people can avoid any ethics disclosures, then have Allegretti arguing for it as a revenue-generating device when he helped put the City in its budget crisis by voting for all the overspending without raising revenue to match that spending.

Listening to Allegretti talk about why this billboard deal has to be done ASAP is like listening to a replay of Richie Daley talking about why the parking meter deal had to be done ASAP.


The 12,00 or 5,000 your talking about is irrelevant!

I believe the enormous amout of money that will be changing hands (in the millions), is in the sale of the billboards by Generation Group once all the I’s are dotted and t’s are crossed.

The chump change that is being offered to the City comes with a whole lot of baggage and believe you me in the end it will come at a great cost as well.

And after it’s all said and done we will be stuck with these eye sore stuctures for a minimun of 20 years with absolutly nothing to show for it.

Instead of petty arguments try logging on to ANY website that involves billboards in our surrounding areas or the state of Il for that matter and then come back here and tell me you think this post is all about ugly signs in the neighborhood.

I am with you 1:02.

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