AVONDALE — Metropolitan Brewing is fighting an eviction notice that could oust the company from its riverfront taproom within days, the culmination of a months-long battle with its landlord, who says the brewery owes more than $800,000 in rent and other fees.
Rockwell Properties, a subsidiary of landlord Paul Levy, filed an eviction complaint in Cook County Circuit Court on Nov. 25. In it, the landlord gives Metropolitan’s owners five days to pay the $817,647.45 outstanding balance or they’d lose their right to possession of the space, according to Crain’s Chicago Business.
But Tracy Hurst, Metropolitan’s co-owner, claims the landlord has been misrepresenting the square footage the brewery occupies at the 3057 N. Rockwell St. campus for years — essentially overcharging the brewery for the space — and is fighting the eviction.
Hurst says the landlord is charging the company for 9,000 square feet of space the taproom doesn’t occupy.
“We just want to pay the rent that we agreed on for the square footage that we’re actually in,” Hurst said.
Levy, his attorney Jason Metnick and Rockwell Properties did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Levy is a real estate broker and longtime friend of former Mayor Rahm Emanuel. He represented Emanuel in real estate matters — including his 2010 residency challenge and leaned on the former mayor when building out the Rockwell campus in 2014.
Metropolitan initially opened in Ravenswood 11 years ago. By 2013, the company started seeking a bigger space to brew larger quantities of its craft beer to keep up with demand.
In 2014, owners Tracy and Doug Hurst began eyeing space at Rockwell on the River — a retrofitted tannery from the 1880s next to the North Branch of the Chicago River redeveloped by Levy into a campus for artisans and food makers.
The brewery eventually began to negotiate the lease and build out the space that would become Metropolitan’s new taproom and brewery operation. One day in November 2015, Hurst says, Levy dropped by the space while renovations were ongoing.
“It was chaos in there. We had contractors and people working, fussing around,” Tracy Hurst said. “And the landlord walks in with a lease in his hands.”
Levy said he needed the lease signed so he could apply for some sort of building permits, Hurst alleges.
“We signed it without our lawyer there to look at it. We felt like we were doing the right thing. We wanted to start off on a good relationship with the landlord,” Hurst said. “We didn’t imagine that anything would be up with that lease.”
The brewery finished moving into the new space in 2017. From then through late 2019, Hurst, who manages Metropolitan’s finances, struggled to figure out why the brewery was struggling to cover the rent for its new Rockwell location despite strong sales.
Hurst and her business partner took pay cuts and worked to increase cash flow with sales while trying to figure out what was going on, she said.
In October 2019, Hurst brought her financial concerns to her accountant to try to understand what was happening.
“I can’t remember who exactly noticed it. But the lease we signed in the taproom that day that was handed to us by our landlord, the square footage was inflated,” Hurst said.
The lease Metropolitan’s lawyers negotiated was for about 24,000 square feet. However the lease the landlord gave the brewery to sign on site was for about 33,000 square feet, Hurst said.
Hurst said she is unsure where the 9,000 square foot difference came from, but thinks it could be based off a floor that was torn down during the renovation of the space Metropolitan now occupies.
But that floor has never been part of the brewery’s architectural footprint, Hurst said, and the landlord or his lawyers have not provided an explanation to resolve the discrepancy.
Metropolitan then stopped paying rent after they learned about the square footage issue, saying they’d “overpaid” rent for the past two years, Hurst said. They wanted to speak to the landlord about it before they continued to pay, but he refused, she said.
In September 2020 the brewery received a letter saying the landlord disagreed there was a discrepancy in the lease’s square footage and there would be no renegotiation of the current lease. This letter also included a list of what the landlord said Metropolitan owed in rent and other fees, Hurst said.
This letter prompted Metropolitan’s owners to arrange a meeting with Levy’s lawyers at the taproom in October, Hurst said. Metropolitan’s owners again brought up the square footage issue and paid two months rent as a sign of good faith, Hurst said.
“There’s no real point in going to court. Let’s just work this out, work the numbers out, get on a payment plan,” Hurst said.
Then on Monday, Hurst said she was contacted by a reporter asking her about the eviction complaint. She said she hasn’t been served with any court papers.
“You know, having a landlord means you have a business partner you didn’t ever ask for. We spent two years trying to pay for an inflated lease and we can’t afford it. And we don’t have the money for a big lawsuit that goes on forever. But what else are we going to do? So we’re fighting,” Hurst said.
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