The Markham Roller Rink was past its prime.
The clout-heavy owner struggled to make money and failed to make needed repairs, records show. The rink's appraised market value sat at about half a million dollars — and that was before the real estate market tanked.
Then came the buyout, covered by taxpayers in one of Chicago's most indebted suburbs.
Markham paid $1.7 million for the rink last year, more than three times what that 2008 appraisal said the property was worth.
A Tribune investigation found that it was a deal riddled with conflicts of interest — and one in which the numbers don't seem to add up. The seller was a company led by Markham's city attorney, Steven Miller, who worked for years under the current mayor and backed him politically. Miller is also the son of the suburb's former mayor.
"It appears to be an insider sweetheart deal," said Rebel Cole, finance and real estate professor at DePaul University, who reviewed the sale and appraisals on the deal. "This should be reviewed by the city attorney. Except he's the one who's selling the property. This ethically stinks."
Markham Mayor David Webb Jr., who has no opposition on the ballot for re-election, said the city didn't overpay for the city attorney's property. To prove it, he points to appraisals in 2012 and 2013. Those were completed by an appraiser disciplined twice by the state and also censured by an industry group over an alleged ethical breach.
Miller told the Tribune that the rink was a moneymaker and really worth millions of dollars, assertions that run counter to the 2008 appraisal he submitted to the state.
"It's not like we sold them a pig in a poke," Miller said.
Webb touts the rink as a great community asset, one meant to keep kids off the streets. It is also a key element of a borrowing and spending spree under his watch that has helped drive down the suburb's credit rating as taxes rise.
The Markham Roller Rink has long been intertwined with the culture and politics of the town of 12,000 people about 25 miles south of Chicago.
Built five decades ago, the building along Dixie Highway was taken over in the 1970s by a company run by Miller's father, Evans.
Gospel nights drew the faithful to skate to songs of prayer and faith and love of Jesus.
Late-night skaters would pair off hand in hand beneath the mirrored disco ball, some of the earliest couples returning years later with children and eventually grandchildren.
"Going there brings back a whole lot of memories," said Ingrid Redus, 64, who grew up in Chicago's Gresham area, met her husband at the rink and still skates there today.
After Evans Miller was elected Markham's mayor in 1985, he battled with aldermen over appointing his son as a city attorney.
The mayor drew the attention of federal investigators in the late 1990s amid accusations by city officials of missing tax district money. Agents carried away stacks of city records from his office at the roller rink. No charges were filed.
Webb seamlessly took over for the ailing Evans Miller in 1999, until Webb's own election in 2001.
Steven Miller stayed on as city attorney and ran the rink as company president. His father died in 2004, and his mother remained a majority shareholder in the rink.