The former Haeger Potteries plant in East Dundee has gone dark.
All plastic bag manufacturing operations have ceased at 7 Maiden Lane. A neon orange sign posted on the door deems the structure unsafe for occupancy. Another notice informs tenants the electricity may have been disconnected March 8.
For months, East Dundee officials have been battling with property owner Gene Staples of Maiden Industrial LLC over various fire, building and other code violations. Notices dated Feb. 26 indicate that Staples owes the village and fire district more than $28,000 in fines, bills and legal fees.
A portion of the burden has now fallen onto new tenant AZ Enterprises, a plastic bag manufacturer and distributor that could shut down permanently if it's unable to resume operations soon, owner Tong Wang said.
"The damage will never be recovered," he said. "I'm to a point where there's not much I can do to solve this issue."
The factory, which has 145,000 square feet of usable space, was previously occupied by Haeger Potteries until the iconic company closed in 2016. Staples purchased the site months later and relocated his company, Golden Plastics USA, from a smaller location in Carpentersville.
After a few months of production, the company was cited for various code violations, including unkempt weeds, private well problems and a "disagreeable odor" that became the basis for frequent resident complaints. The village and fire district attempted to address the issues through adjudication and court proceedings, Village Administrator Jennifer Johnsen said. The problems were never resolved because Staples was unresponsive and didn't attend the hearings, she said.
Golden Plastics later ceased production and liquidated its assets as of Dec. 31, according to the company's website. All operations, supplies and customer lists were then handed over to AZ Enterprises. Property records show Maiden Industrial still owns the site.
East Dundee was unaware operations resumed under new ownership until last month, Johnsen said, noting AZ Enterprises never obtained a business license. Village and fire officials inspected and red-tagged the building, which can't be occupied until all fines are paid and code violations are fixed, she said.
"It has been several months of not just noncompliance, but unresponsiveness," Johnsen said. "We feel like this is the only opportunity in order to get compliance."
Maiden Industrial is now "exploring all legal options" against East Dundee, Staples said, declining to elaborate.
Problems for tenant
When AZ Enterprises took over the factory Jan. 1, Wang said he was unaware of the issues between the village and his landlord. The company, operating as AZ Plastics, had several outstanding work orders when it was shut down nearly a month ago, he said.
The business was allowed to temporarily resume production to complete the orders already in process, Johnsen said. But before normal operations can continue, it has to obtain all appropriate licenses, including a permit from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.
Meanwhile, Wang has had to lay off several employees. Production has become stagnant, and inventory is running low. He has considered moving, but it's difficult to find a nearby location large enough to house the business. He's suggested organizing a meeting with all parties involved, but nothing has been planned.
"My intention is to put my business here, and I have no intention of not following the law," Wang said. "I hope they can find a solution because we're the victims here. The people who work for me are the victims."
The village and the East Dundee & Countryside Fire Protection District each sent Staples a letter last month outlining his steps to compliance. According to the notices, he owes the village $3,797 in water and sewer bills, and $3,750 in fines for code violations. He accumulated at least $21,000 in fines and legal fees, per an order from a Kane County judge.
Staples has not made any of those payments, Johnsen said. AZ Enterprises does not have any citations or fines.
Some progress has been made to address the code issues, Johnsen said, but "We're definitely not there yet." Maiden Industrial has attempted to challenge some of village's requirements, she said, but East Dundee is refusing to back down.
"The village's position is firm. We've been firm and clear from the beginning," Johnsen said. "They're asking for concessions which we're not willing to afford them."