whole foods englewood chicago opening
The Whole Foods in Englewood didn't even make it six years and cost the city $10.7 million in TIF money. Credit: artistmac / Flickr

In the aftermath of Whole Foods closing its taxpayer-subsidized store in Englewood, it’s as good a time as ever for me to once again remind you that it was only four years ago that the city and state were begging Jeff Bezos to please, please, please take billions of our tax dollars and build a headquarters here.

Build it anywhere you want, Mr. Bezos. Prime, already gentrifying locations included.

And don’t worry about infrastructure costs. We’ll foot the bill—no matter what that bill may be.

Just please, please, please allow us to raise our taxes and give you the money, Mr. Bezos.

The primary drivers of the effort to give billions to Bezos, the owner of Amazon, were Bruce Rauner and his sidekick, Mayor Rahm, long since departed from our scene.

But they were backed by the usual collection of corporate, civic, and editorial elites who are always urging us to fork over more money to billionaires who don’t need it because, let’s face it, they worship wealth.

They either want to work for the rich guys they’re urging us to throw money at. Or they used to work for those guys and plan to go back to working for them once they go back to the private sector.

Back to Whole Foods in Englewood. As the TIF guy, I’m getting calls from readers asking—why can’t the mayor force Amazon, which owns Whole Foods, to give back the $10.7 million TIF handout they got for their grocery store at 63rd and Halsted?

The short answer is that the handout didn’t go to Whole Foods.

It went to the developers who built the store. They got it to cover infrastructure costs in a deal approved by the City Council in 2014.

I had no problems with a TIF expenditure in Englewood. Tax increment financing program dollars are supposed to be spent in low-income neighborhoods. They’re not supposed to be spent on already gentrifying near-north-side neighborhoods like the one that got $1.3 billion for Lincoln Yards.

Think about that—$10.7 million for a poor neighborhood on the south side versus $1.3 billion for a rich one up north. That tells you everything you need to know about the unfairness of Chicago’s TIF program.

And we’re not done pumping public dollars into the area around Lincoln Yards. The Tribune printing plant near Chicago and Halsted is a leading contender for the casino that Mayor Lightfoot is so desperate to build.

If it goes there, we’d be pumping even more millions of infrastructure and street-paving dollars into the area.

That area used to have poor people living in it, before the city tore down Cabrini-Green and moved the poor people out. Now it’s one of the richest corners in the city. 

Ever notice the city only seems eager to spend money on poor people when it comes to moving them out of town?

Look, I realize Whole Foods is not a charity or a philanthropy. They’re in business to make money, not fill up food deserts.

But I don’t think we should keep throwing property tax dollars at rich areas that don’t need the cash. Especially since there are so many other neighborhoods that do. 

And if we’re going to pave the streets, let’s pave all the streets. Not just the streets on the near north side, while the rest of the city falls into a giant pothole.

And if we’re going to essentially subsidize a Whole Foods grocery store, even indirectly, at least put some language in the deal that makes the store stay for more than five years.

I don’t want you to think I’m picking on Bezos. He’s not the only rich guy our elected officials have thrown money at.

Cook County officials also give property tax breaks to Donald Trump for his tower—and they’re still too chicken to make him take that damn sign down.

And there was the embarrassing spectacle of Mayor Rahm welcoming Elon Musk to town a few years back and begging him to build a worthless bullet train to O’Hare that most Chicagoans would never use but would surely have had to pay for.

And now we’re gearing up to throw untold tens of millions at whatever gambling mega titan wins the right to run a casino.

In each instance, the only objections come from lefties on the margins.

Contrast this to the recent brouhaha in the City Council over Mayor Lightfoot’s proposal to give about $12 million worth of prepaid gas and transit cards to eligible low-income residents.

It narrowly passed the council after hours of debate. Opponents pointed out that the plan was an election-year gimmick—Lightfoot’s attempt to mimic the gas giveaways of Willie Wilson, who’s running against her for mayor. And the gas cards hurt the environment by encouraging people to drive. And so on.

Yes, yes, right on all points. But we’re talking about relative peanuts.

I’ve been following TIF deals for over 30 years. And I’ve never seen a TIF handout to a rich guy—no matter how outrageous—get half the scrutiny as this gas giveaway.

How come when it comes to giving out a relative handful of dollars to the poor, it gets closely scrutinized? But when it comes to giving billions to billionaires, it’s shut up and vote yes?

I already told you, but I’ll tell you again.

It’s ’cause we worship wealth, people. We’ve brainwashed ourselves into thinking if we give billions to billionaires, it’s economic development. But if we give pennies to the poor, it’s a waste.It’s been that way around here since Mayor Washington died. Sad to say, the mindset doesn’t seem to be changing anytime soon.

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