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Tollway Lesee May be Foreclosed

By Kevin Robinson in News on Jul 28, 2009 2:20PM

Photo by Maggie T
Los Angeles-based Wilton Partners may have to default on a $83.2 million loan it took out five years ago to finance the overhaul of seven Illinois tollroad oases. Wilton Partners owes iStar FM Loans LLC nearly $95 million in principal and interest payments, according to a foreclosure suit filed in April. Wilton also owes the state over $1 million in back rent and other payments. The slow economy has left the developer holding the bag on space that it can't lease out in the tollway oases. The kicker? The firm made huge campaign contributions to former governor Rod Blagojevich. Wilton Partners and its owner, Jay Wilton, gave Blagojevich $85,000 to his campaign in 2003 and '04. That included hosting a fundraiser at the Beverly Hills Hilton in 2004. Wilton has also been connected to Tony Rezko. The firm cut rents in half for Subway and Panda Express restaurants that were owned by the convicted businessman.

Although iStar may wind up taking possession of the oases in the foreclosure case, the tollway still owns them. And according to Joelle McGinnis, communications chief for the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority, it's been a pretty good deal for the tollway. "Tollway drivers have noticed no difference -- bathrooms are clean, facilities still offer a variety of services, and the pavilions continue to be safe, convenient places for customers to stop and take a break," she said. "Legally the tollway is in a good position because we are not responsible for Wilton's debt." While the tollway hopes to recover the $1.3 million debt, McGinnis described the deal as "pretty good" for the state, since the oases were in very bad shape prior to Wilton's management. [CBS 2, Tribune]