‘Windy City Rehab’ pair seeking court-appointed oversight of joint venture: ‘Where did the money go?’

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The home at 1700 W. Wabansia Ave. was featured on the first season of the HGTV series,' Windy City Rehab.' A lawsuit over the home's renovation was filed in April 2020. - Tracy Swartz/Chicago Tribune/TNS

CHICAGO – Feuding “Windy City Rehab” partners Alison Victoria Gramenos and Donovan Eckhardt are seeking court-appointed oversight and a financial review of their joint venture because their relationship has “deteriorated,” according to paperwork filed last week in Cook County court.

Gramenos, the designer and host of the popular HGTV show, and Eckhardt, the show’s former lead contractor, are “currently unable to effectively communicate or cooperatively manage Alovan,” the limited liability company they formed in 2017 to flip residential properties, according to Eckhardt’s June 9 filing. “Recognizing this disconnect, Eckhardt and Gramenos have agreed that a receiver should be appointed.” Eckhardt’s attorney on this matter was not immediately available for comment.

Eckhardt said in the filing the receiver is needed to “manage and wind down (Alovan) affairs” and secure legal representation for a 2019 lawsuit filed by a Lincoln Square couple unhappy with the work done to their home on the first season of “Windy City Rehab.” The attorney for Alovan — a portmanteau of Alison and Donovan — cited “irreconcilable conflict” when he withdrew from the case last month.

The Lincoln Square home was one of seven properties purchased, remodeled and sold using the “Alovanward” name under a deal Eckhardt said he forged with a Chicago-area family of investors. The Wards accused Eckhardt and Gramenos of not repaying them properly in a fraud lawsuit they filed last year.

Eckhardt said in the new paperwork each of those projects “went over budget” and “projected profits did not materialize.” But John Kennedy, an attorney for the Ward family, painted a different picture in court in April. He told a judge “in many ways this looks like a Ponzi scheme where money was being used from the Wards to fund other projects.” He was not immediately available for comment for this story.

The Wards suffered a legal setback at that same court date when the judge said their complaint “needs to state facts rather than just conclusions, and it needs to state more specific facts relative to all the counts.” An amended complaint is due by the end of the month.

“The Wards’ lawyer knows full well that Mr. Eckhardt controlled the construction projects, that Ms. Gramenos has produced all her records related to the transactions, and yet the Ward (dismissed) complaint has not a single specific example of misconduct by Ms. Gramenos,” Gramenos’ attorneys, Daniel Lynch and Amy Kanarowski, said in a Friday statement to the Tribune.

“Ms. Gramenos never met the Wards until introduced by Donovan Eckhardt, but the one thing Ms. Gramenos has in common with the Wards is that she likewise lost significant sums on Donovan Eckhardt projects. One hope that Ms. Gramenos has for the receiver she seeks is to get at the same information the Wards are looking for: ‘where did the money go?’”

The breakdown in the relationship between Gramenos and Eckhardt unfolded on “Windy City Rehab” Season 2, which aired in the fall. The two fought over budget issues, and their partnership was further strained when they ran into trouble with the city for alleged violations at multiple work sites.

Eckhardt appeared sporadically on the most recent episodes, and he has filed a defamation suit against the production company behind “Windy City Rehab” and the parent company of HGTV. More Season 2 episodes are expected to air later this year.