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updated: 8/7/2014 6:37 AM

How Ye Old Town Inn owner fought suburb, won millions

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  • Video: Settlement in Mt. Prospect

  • Tod Curtis, owner of Ye Olde Town Inn, inside the inn Wednesday afternoon that he fought to preserve despite what he says were village efforts to seize his property.

       Tod Curtis, owner of Ye Olde Town Inn, inside the inn Wednesday afternoon that he fought to preserve despite what he says were village efforts to seize his property.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • A row of businesses on Busse Avenue in Mount Prospect includes the Blues Bar and Ye Olde Town Inn.

       A row of businesses on Busse Avenue in Mount Prospect includes the Blues Bar and Ye Olde Town Inn.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • The Ye Olde Town Inn in downtown Mount Prospect has been owned by Tod Curtis the last 46 years.

       The Ye Olde Town Inn in downtown Mount Prospect has been owned by Tod Curtis the last 46 years.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

 
 

You can't fight City Hall, the adage goes, but Tod Curtis fought Village Hall, and his side came away with $6.5 million.

The 75-year-old ex-Marine has operated Ye Olde Town Inn, a downtown Mount Prospect pizzeria and watering hole, for 46 years.

He claimed in a 2008 federal racketeering lawsuit that village officials and a local development company conspired to seize his land and redevelop the area without him.

But late last month, just before a jury trial on the suit was finally set to begin, attorneys for Curtis and the village settled out of court.

The settlement was secret until Tuesday night, when Mount Prospect Mayor Arlene Juracek made a short statement at a village board meeting and the payout was revealed to be $6.5 million.

On Wednesday afternoon, Curtis was in his usual place, getting ready for another night at his establishment.

"Nothing's changed me," he said. "I'm still making great pizzas."

In the settlement, the parties basically agreed not to discuss it publicly, and both sides largely held to that position Wednesday. Curtis won't reveal what he'll do with his windfall, but $2 million of it will pay his attorneys' fees, according to the agreement.

Juracek and other village officials declined to comment on what led to the out-of-court settlement and how the parties arrived at a dollar amount, citing the agreement's nondisclosure and nondisparagement clauses.

"It's a settlement," Juracek said Wednesday. She said, however, that the village's legal fees over the years amount to about $1.5 million.

Curtis, for his part, says he doesn't plan to stop working anytime soon, whether it's in the current building that has sat at 18 W. Busse Ave. since 1926, or within a new seven-story mixed-use development that Curtis has proposed.

He alleged in the 2008 suit that then-Mayor Irvana Wilks, several village employees and local developer and dentist Errol Oztekin formed an "ongoing enterprise and scheme" for nearly a decade to drive him out.

He also charged village officials with "endless harassing inspections of the property" in retaliation for comments he made to local media and allowing Oztekin's Blues Bar to be built next door, even though they knew it would damage Ye Olde Town Inn because the establishments share a wall.

Village officials repeatedly denied Curtis' claims. By settling, Juracek said Tuesday, the village doesn't "admit to or have been found liable with respect to any of the allegations of the complaint."

Curtis and his attorneys took the unusual step of bringing their suit under the auspices of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, established in 1970 and most widely known for prosecuting organized crime.

But RICO cases have also been used as a tool to recover actual damages, interest and punitive damages for wrongdoing, said Karen Conti, a Chicago attorney and adjunct professor at the DePaul University College of Law.

The most powerful part of RICO, Conti said, is that it allows plaintiffs to get triple the amount of damages compared to a typical case.

"The courts have made it difficult to plead and prove civil RICO cases, so the fact this case went on as long as it has leads me to believe the judge thought Curtis' allegations had some merit," Conti said Wednesday.

"Insurance companies and municipalities simply do not pay out that kind of money without good justification and the threat of significant loss."

Before the RICO suit, in 2007, the village sought to take Curtis' property via eminent domain as part of its downtown redevelopment efforts. Officials abandoned the attempt in 2010 as real estate values plummeted.

Even as his own legal fees grew during the course of the lawsuit, Curtis never thought of abandoning it, his attorney said.

"Nothing good is easy," Rich Valentino said. "He's been in business there for over 40 years and not all of them were easy years. For people actively involved in real estate development, there's always hurdles."

Valentino rejects what some might see as the David vs. Goliath aspects of the case.

"We're all little guys on this planet," Valentino said. "Maybe not all of us. There's Bill Gates and Warren Buffett."

Mount Prospect has been thinking about redeveloping the area known as the "Triangle" since the 1990s, but right now, the only proposal on the table is the one put forth by Curtis.

His plan, called Gateway Centre of Mount Prospect, involves his property and a few others on Busse Avenue and calls for six stories of residential units above street-level storefronts that would include Ye Olde Town Inn, Karma Hair and Nail, Hour Time Jewelry and The Training Ground Athletic Performance Center.

Juracek said village community development department officials reviewed Curtis' latest set of plans and sent them back with comments and recommendations.

Of the $6.5 million settlement, the village's insurance consortium, High Excess Liability Protection, will pay $6,060,998. The village will pay the remainder from its risk management and reserve funds, Juracek said.

The mayor said she doesn't know if the settlement will cause the village's insurance rates to go up. She said the amount the village is paying Curtis won't jeopardize any ongoing projects in town.

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