- Rich Hein/Sun-Times
- In this image from October 2013, Mayor Rahm Emanuel speaks about the 2014 budget with the Sun-Times editorial board. Did he mention that he would increase the scope of his South Loop DePaul/Marriott boondoggle?
In one of those quirky coincidences of life in Chicago, my property tax bill arrived yesterday—the same day as the public hearing for the latest variation of Mayor Emanuel’s grandiose South Loop boondoggle.
That’s the boondoggle in which the mayor’s basically writing himself a blank check to spend untold tens of millions of your tax dollars to build a basketball arena for DePaul and a hotel for Marriott.
Not that anyone has asked him for either.
On the contrary, I pay my property taxes twice a year to cover things like schools, parks, police, firefighters, and other critical services a civilized society cannot adequately function without.
So you might say that Mayor Emanuel’s ultimate plan is to end civilization as we know it by wasting our tax dollars on frivolities.
You know our mayor’s always been one to think big.
To celebrate the arrival of my bill—which was roughly 13 percent higher than the last one—I decided to attend the public meeting.
Why not? If I have to pay property tax dollars, I might as well see how the mayor’s spending them.
To McCormick Place I schlepped—subzero temps and all—where an assemblage of public figures and private consultants was working overtime to convince about 100 people that this was the best deal ever!
Man, I haven’t seen such a slick band of operators since The Wolf of Wall Street.
Something you should know . . .
This is actually Plan B in the mayor’s South Loop scheme. In Plan A, unveiled last spring, the mayor said he would buy two chunks of land near the intersection of Cermak and Michigan Avenue—one for the Marriott, and the other for DePaul’s basketball arena and a small hotel.
In this plan, he intends to buy three chunks of land. Why the change? Basically, the mayor kind of screwed up.
He assumed that snatching South Loop land from its owners would be as easy as, oh, closing a bunch of schools in poor, black west- and south-side neighborhoods.
But it turned out that the owner of one key parcel—a well-connected construction magnate named James McHugh—wasn’t as easy to bowl over as your average west- or south-side parent.
McHugh sued the city, arguing that it had already given him approval to build a data center on the property it now wanted to use for the Marriott hotel.
So the city’s either going to have to pay McHugh way more money than it originally offered, or leave him alone to build his data center.
With the case dragging on, Mayor Emanuel decided to move the Marriott to land that’s just east of where the basketball arena’s supposed to go. That land is owned by an outfit called CenterPoint.
I hope you’re following this, people—since you’ll be footing the bill.
However, the mayor’s still very much going after McHugh’s land. He says he wants to build the smaller hotel there.
So, taxpayers, on top of everything else, you can look forward to spending more of your tax dollars on the lawyers who are fighting McHugh in court.
Hold on—we’re not done with all the mayor’s machinations.
The mayor’s going to allow CenterPoint to build a data center on the same block as the Marriott.
So he’s not only snatching away McHugh’s land, he’s also giving CenterPoint the go-ahead to build a rival data center right down the street.
Oh my God, Mr. Mayor, that is just so badass of you!
If I didn’t know better, I’d say this whole South Loop scheme had devolved into a grudge match in which Mayor Emanuel’s determined to show James McHugh just who has the bigger . . .
Well, you know.
The climactic moment of yesterday’s meeting came when a fellow in the audience asked if there would be “any additional costs to the city for the new plans?”
At which point Brad McConnell, from the city’s department of planning, stepped forward to say:
“None?” asked the audience member.
“None,” said McConnell.
I don’t think anyone knows how much all this wheeling and dealing will cost when it’s all over. But the mayor must think we, the taxpayers, must be really stupid to believe that buying three plots of land won’t cost more than buying two.
Of course, we’re the ones who elected him in the first place. So I can see why he’d have a low opinion of our intelligence.