Steve Zwick's February 11 article "Who Are All These Patels?" provides a fascinating perspective on a family from a complex culture steeped in Eastern tradition and now full participants in America's New Economy. I work with many Patels in a wide range of businesses in Cook County, and agree with Zwick's characterizations of them as independent, diligent, stubborn, strong willed and honest.
Among a myriad of cultural facets covered in the article, what familiarized me with the Patels is their rise in the U.S. hotel industry. Zwick describes a true American immigrant success story, identifying the Patels' ingenuity in emerging as successful hoteliers, buying and building new hotels throughout the country. One case in point illustrates how these industrious entrepreneurial people, with origins as tax collectors and government administrators in their native Gujarat province, have ironically become victims of Cook County's antibusiness, highly regressive real estate tax system and bureaucracy.
Lured by cheap, "give-it-away," municipal owned, tax-exempt vacant land on which to build, a Patel family acquired 2 hotels and built 5 more in Thornton Township in southern Cook County. Thornton is part of a chain of 5 county townships that compose 13 percent of Cook County's real estate parcels, but contain almost 50 percent of the county's delinquent properties. The poor state of the local economy burdens the Patel hotels with higher than standard industry vacancy rates.
Adding greatly needed new jobs to the beleaguered southern Cook County, the Patel hotels (Days Inn, Comfort Suites, Sleep Inn, Holiday Inn Express) contributed $855,000 in 1998 real estate tax dollars to a dwindling pool of public revenues bleeding out of the area into the collar counties. Compounding the Patels' problems, Cook County's 35 percent property "tax shock" increase in the 1999 reassessment cycle threatens to push the hotels into bankruptcy.
Tragically, the Patels have been forced to absorb property taxes that are impossible to carry. The Patels' Cook County 65 room Comfort Suites pays $7.82 per room per night in real estate taxes. Yet 15 miles away in Will County, the Patels' 65 room Comfort Suites pays $1.88 per room per night in real estate taxes. The annual Cook County tax bill for this property is $158,000 compared to the Will County tax bill of $39,800 for an identical business. No longer able to afford Cook County's exorbitant property taxes, the Patels will put up all their Cook County hotels for sale and will develop hotels in Arkansas and adjacent Indiana counties.
Idi Amin threw the Patels out of Uganda, despite their strong work ethic, history, and contributions to the economy. Has Cook County done the same thing?
Paul L. Pusateri