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Noyes Cafe land escaped taxes for 15 years

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The land under the now-shuttered Noyes Cafe in Evanston has escaped property taxes for the past 15 years after it was sold by Northwestern University to a private owner.

Evanston Now has learned that through a series of apparent errors by government employees the parcel continued to be listed as tax exempt in county records despite the sale to the private 824-28 Noyes LLC in 2001.

That limited liability company had previously acquired the leasehold interest in the Noyes Cafe building — which had originally been constructed under a 95-year lease from the university as a grocery store in the 1920s. Property taxes have been paid over the years on the building itself.

Then City Clerk Mary Morris initialed the deed noting payment of real estate transfer taxes on the sale of the land, and under practices then in place the city and the now-abolished office of township assessor both should have notified the Cook County Assessor's Office of the sale so that the land could be placed back on the tax roles.

Any later efforts to determine the true ownership of the parcel were further complicated when the deed was misfiled at the Cook County Recorder of Deeds office — being recorded as a transaction involving the leasehold interest in the building — rather than the land itself.

After an inquiry by Evanston Now, Assistant City Manager Marty Lyons said city staff has been in contact with the county assessor's office and that staff there plans to seek payment of back taxes on the land from the owner.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz says the city needs to tighten up its procedures for determining whether properties should be tax exempt when they are the subject of property transfers or zoning requests, but he expressed doubts about whether a comprehensive review of all tax exempt properties in the city would yield enough additional revenue to justify the effort required to conduct it.

Judging from the current taxes on some nearby properties, the lost revenue to local governments from 15 years of tax exemption on the Noyes Cafe land could be in the neighborhood of $300,000.

The Noyes Cafe site, at 824-28 Noyes St., is now the subject of a planned development request from a potential new owner — not the entity that has owned the parcel for the past 15 years.

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