FMG Holdings, which operates a number of car dealerships in western Michigan under the name of Fox Motors, had planned on spending $57 million turning an abandoned industrial site on Chicago’s North Side into a large Ford store but it has now given Chicago politicians an Oct. 1st deadline to either approve or deny their zoning application after the issue has gotten mired in local politics and injected with the issue of race.
Originally, FMG had approached Alederman Scott Waguespack about his support of their plan to develop a 102,000 square foot Ford dealership in his ward, Chicago’s 32nd. The store would replace a defunct dealership also in Chicago, and it would employ about 200 people.
Waguespack solicited feedback from constituents, who approved, so he decided to support FMG, though he turned down their request for a tax-increment financing subsidy. The Chicago Plan Commission also approved the zoning request, but then the plan stalled after other aldermen representing predominantly Hispanic wards got involved, asking what Ford has done to give franchises to Hispanics.
One of the aldermen, Danny Solis, chairman of the City Council’s Latino Caucus, also chairs the City Council Committee on Zoning, which has tabled Fox’s request twice. Solis gives Ford’s lack of any Hispanic owned dealerships in the Chicago area as his reason. ”We want some form of commitment from Ford,” Solis says. “Ford should be sensitive to giving a fair shake to the Hispanic community.”
While Ford may not have any stores in Chicagoland owned by Latinos, one particular Latino, Jose Diaz, whose family used to own a Miami, Florida Chrysler dealership and who is said to maintain a residence in Chicago, seems to be the person that Solis has in mind, as it is Diaz’s name that Solis has suggested to Ford. Diaz has been promoting his own plan to open up a dealership in a different location than in the 32nd ward. He’s also given campaign contributions to Latino aldermen, inlcuding $6,800 to Solis’ 25th Ward Regular Democratic Organization. Solis denies a connection between those contributions and his inaction on Fox’s zoning request.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel’s office said that the request will come up for a committee vote on Sept. 4 and a full city council vote later in September.
Because of the delay, Fox says that it had to extend an option to purchase that would have expired in early August but a spokeswoman said that it would be the last extension the company would seek and that if a decision wasn’t rendered before October, they would walk away. Still, the company knows it has to be diplomatic.
“From our experience, when you go through zoning, it has to do with whether you’re complying with the law,” Monica Sekulich, general counsel at Fox Motors, told the Automotive News. ”We’re frustrated by the [Chicago] process. But we’re optimists. … We are excited about doing this deal.”