JOLIET – Jurors in the Evergreen Terrace trial got their first close-up look at Joliet on Wednesday with a visit to the low-income apartment complex on Broadway Street.
The "jury view" of Evergreen Terrace followed opening arguments at the Dirksen Federal Building in Chicago, where lawyers told them what to expect from appraisers on both sides in a trial likely to end by Tuesday.
The City of Joliet, which is exercising eminent domain over Evergreen Terrace but is waiting to hear the price before deciding to buy the complex, is asking the jury to value Evergreen Terrace at $14.3 million.
Evergreen Terrace will put an appraiser on the stand who will value the property at $22.3 million, said attorney James Benak, who represents the owners.
"I'd ask you just to reserve your opinion until you see the property and judge for yourself," Benak told the jury about an hour before they got on the bus and headed to Joliet.
Evergreen Terrace lawyers wanted jurors to visit the property before reaching a verdict on what the city should pay.
Some of the jurors, when they were questioned before being selected, said they had never been to Joliet or had simply driven through it. The 12-member jury includes a Bolingbrook man who works in Joliet and a Homer Glen woman who said she goes to the Rialto Square Theatre and Joliet restaurants.
None of the jurors said they were familiar with Evergreen Terrace or knew anything about the City of Joliet's condemnation case against the private owners of the 10-acre complex.
Evergreen Terrace visit
Their visit to Evergreen Terrace lasted about 50 minutes.
U.S. District Judge Charles Norgle had instructed jurors not to talk with people at Evergreen Terrace, but simply to view the facility.
That led to awkward moments after they got off the bus. Although they were greeted by the property manager, jurors stood around for about 10 minutes appearing not to know what to do next. Finally, they decided walk around the complex and then started going into buildings.
They visited two separate apartments buildings and were let into unoccupied units in each building to see what the apartments looked like. They walked throughout the complex. The jurors also walked into the leasing office at Evergreen Terrace twice.
Evergreen Terrace history
Attorney James Figliulo, representing Joliet, told the jurors in his opening statement, "When you see the property, your decision process doesn't stop there. It starts there."
Figliulo offered the jury a history of Evergreen Terrace, saying, "It was built in the mid-1960s and then fell into serious disrepair. Part of it was demolished and redeveloped."
He said the current owners acquired the property in 1979 or 1980.
Figliulo said the federal government put $5 million into Evergreen Terrace between 2007 and 2012, "to fix it up for the people who live there" and has put in more money since then.
Evergreen Terrace is privately owned, but the rent is subsidized with Section 8 grants from the federal government.
Figliulo also said "this property has been plagued by crime – serious crime – for decades. It's considered by the chief of police the most dangerous place in Joliet."
Evergreen Terrace in demand
Benak presented a different view of Evergreen Terrace in his opening statement.
"You'll hear testimony that the waiting list for this property is in the hundreds. Hundreds of people are waiting to get into this property," Benak told the jury. "You'll also hear testimony that these types of properties are in high demand by investors."
The city's case against Evergreen Terrace included an argument that the density – the number of apartments per acre – is too high. But Benak said that density adds to the value of Evergreen Terrace.
He said Hugh Edfors, the appraiser for the owners, "will tell you that density on a property is not a negative. It's a positive because the more people you can put on a property the more revenue."