The Cultural Center as poster child for the Infrastructure Trust: where's the beef? | Bleader

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Cultural Center as poster child for the Infrastructure Trust: where's the beef?

Posted By on 04.23.12 at 05:45 PM

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel talked up his Infrastructure Trust proposal during a Marketplace Morning Report radio interview that aired on WBEZ three weeks ago today.

When asked how the Trust would differ from Mayor Daley's infamous parking meter deal, he responded with a specific example:

"The Cultural Center, it's 100 years old—when we're done, we're going to save about $30,000 a year in energy costs. But we still own the Cultural Center. We're not privatizing it, we're just literally using private money to build out the energy efficiency."

After that broadcast I tried to find out exactly what work is planned for the Cultural Center. Here's the response from the Mayor's Office and the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events:

"There are no specifics, nothing has been approved. . .the Mayor was merely using the building as an example."

Which raises a few questions, not likely to be answered in time for tomorrow's City Council vote:

If there are no specifics for the Cultural Center, how could the mayor know there will be $30,000 in annual energy savings there?


What work does the building really need? (Where's the cost/benefit analysis?)

What will be the cost of borrowing money through the Infrastructure Trust to do that work? Will it be less than other means of financing (like low-interest bonds)? Will it involve any loss of public control over the building?

Why can't the Cultural Center Foundation, which, according to this Chicago Tribune story, hasn't met for a year, get its act together and find donated money to pay for the new insulation or whatever it is that really makes sense to do in this landmark public treasure?

Here's a fact we do know: According to the Civic Federation, in the first decade of the 21st century, Chicago's debt-per-capita rose 121.9 percent.

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