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James Crown, Billionaire Chicago Businessman And Real Estate Investor, Dies In Racetrack Crash

Prominent Chicago businessman James Crown, the CEO of a sprawling family investment business with significant commercial real estate holdings in Chicago and elsewhere, including the iconic Rockefeller Center in New York City, died Sunday after a race car crash in Colorado.

The Crown Family is a major investor in New York City's Rockefeller Center.

Crown was celebrating his 70th birthday at Aspen Motorsports Park when his car hit a wall as it rounded a curve, his father, billionaire financier Lester Crown, told the Chicago Sun-Times. In addition to serving as CEO of Henry Crown & Co. in Chicago, Crown was managing partner of Aspen Skiing Co., which operates the four-resort Aspen Snowmass complex.

“There never was a finer human being in every way,” Lester Crown told the Sun-Times. “He was the leader of our family both intellectually and emotionally, and he looked out for everybody. He also was a great leader also for the community. It’s just a heartfelt loss. There are no words that can express it.” 

Crown succeeded his father as chairman and CEO of privately held Henry Crown & Co. in 2018, the scion of a family that was ranked the 34th richest in America by Forbes in 2020 with an estimated net worth of $10.2B. He sat on the board of General Dynamics and JPMorgan Chase, the company’s two primary public holdings.

Crown family real estate holdings include the ski resorts and New York City’s Rockefeller Center, which it co-owns with Tishman Speyer. Closer to home, the family has partnered with developer Sterling Bay to acquire properties in the red-hot Fulton Market neighborhood and to invest in Lincoln Yards, the life sciences megadevelopment on the city's North Side, Crain’s Chicago Business reported. Crown was also an investor in Sterling Bay’s 47-story 300 North Michigan Ave. tower.

James Crown made headlines most recently by stepping up to helm a public safety task force of corporate leaders established by the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago to address violent crime in the city. One initiative would have included finding jobs for up to 10,000 men from high-crime areas of the city. 

"A lifelong Chicagoan, Jim gave back to the city through philanthropy and leadership on a number of civic and academic boards as he was deeply committed to investing in Chicago and its people," Mayor Brandon Johnson said in a statement.

"With his generosity, Jim truly embodied the soul of Chicago. I was especially grateful for his commitment to work collaboratively with my administration to build a safer Chicago, having met recently to share ideas. I send my deepest condolences to his wife, four children, grandchildren, and the entire Crown family and pray for their peace."

The Crowns’ roots in Chicago date back more than 100 years to James Crown’s grandfather Henry and his brothers launching a sand and gravel business that grew into construction supplier Material Service Corp.