Money doesn't grow on trees | Bleader

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Money doesn't grow on trees

Posted By on 06.06.07 at 06:22 PM

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I got an e-mail the other day from one of Mayor Daley's biggest boosters, complaining about the rising cost of parking in Millennium Park's underground garage.

They jacked up the price to $20 from the usual $11 to $16 for people parking to see Gospel Fest, my correspondent complained. It was "a kick in the teeth for a family of four to have this sprung on them without notice."

Well, I hate to sound unsympathetic, but what do you expect? It only makes sense for Laz Parking, the private company that now runs parking at several downtown garages, to raise prices for special events. Call it basic supply-and-demand economics: hit 'em hard when you can. That's how businesses make the big money. Got a problem with that, take it up with Adam Smith.

Of course, if the garages were publicly run the city might have a more benevolent attitude about slapping Gospel Fest attendees with a special-event rate. But they're not publicly run anymore -- and that's the central point. In October, Daley agreed to lease the garage (scroll down), as well as three others in the area, to Morgan Stanley for $563 million over the next three years. In turn, Morgan Stanley hired Laz to run them.

It's another case of the Millennium Park chickens coming home to roost. The fact is, Millennium Park was not, as so many people believe, a gift from corporate Chicago to its less fortunate brethren. Yes, the stuff in the park -- the Bean, the garden, the bridge, etc -- was paid for by contributors. But the cost of constructing the park, as well as the ongoing cost of policing it and cleaning it up, falls to the public. 

Originally Daley planned to pay these costs with proceeds from Millennium's underground parking garage. But that didn't work: the garages weren't attracting enough business fast enough for him to cover the $278 million needed to erase existing debt on the garages, much less the city's other multimillion-dollar obligations. So he moved to plan B, leasing the garages and spinning it as "an outstanding deal for the taxpayers of the city of Chicago."

As I've pointed out before, the city could have probably afforded Millennium Park -- but not on top of rebuilding Soldier Field, creating roughly 150 (and counting) tax increment financing districts, and, now, lord help us all, paying for the 2016 Olympics (if we get the bid at all, of course). Apparently, even as our taxes rise and schools and public transport fail, the electorate's deluded itself into believing that Daley's a magician who makes money grow on trees. Then we bitch about the cost of parking.

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