Bleader | Chicago Reader

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Chicago officials take a page from Trump playbook to justify Navy Pier TIF ‘shell game’

Posted By on 07.27.17 at 02:50 PM

Rendering of the renovated Navy Pier - ADRIAN SMITH + GORDON GILL ARCHITECTURE
  • Rendering of the renovated Navy Pier

City officials are attempting to explain away allegations of "an elaborate financial shell game" in what has become the Emanuel administration's latest TIF scandal, which I've taken to calling "Piergate." Their rebuttal is straight out of the Donald J. Trump playbook: attack your critics, exaggerate your triumphs, and then babble some gobbledygook to confuse everybody.

The controversy, which is roiling the City Council, stems from a joint investigation by Crain's and the Better Government Association that revealed $55 million in TIF funds the city said was going toward a South Loop development that includes the Marriott Marquis hotel and Wintrust Arena wound up being diverted to Navy Pier's renovation project. (TIFs, remember, are intended to eradicate blight in poor neighborhoods, and Navy Pier is not blighted, poor, or a neighborhood.)

The story's stunning revelations prompted Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority CEO Lori Healey and Chicago Department of Planning and Development commissioner David Reifman, two mayoral allies, to pen a tortuous defense of what the report establishes is "bookkeeping jiujitsu [that] appears to violate the spirit, if not the letter, of the controversial tax-increment financing program."

At the heart of the Crain's/BGA investigation into Piergate are e-mails, which enterprising reporters John Chase and Danny Ecker received through Freedom of Information Act requests, written by officials from the MPEA, the city-state entity known as McPier that runs McCormick Place and Navy Pier.

In one particularly revealing e-mail, MPEA's then-CEO Richard Oldshue writes: "None of this TIF money comes to MPEA as incentive of otherwise. The city is aggregating balances from various existing districts as they become available to transfer funds to MPEA which we transfer in full to [Navy Pier]. We don’t keep any."

Oldshue gets even more precise. "Nominally, [we’re] receiving $55 million from TIF to reimburse hotel project costs but that's just the bookkeeping for requesting the transfers. Ten days after MPEA receives the money we pass it along in full to [Navy Pier] . . . It's a one-time arrangement that we are just a middleman in. We don't actually get any funding.”

If I were a lawyer cross-examining Oldshue in court, at this point I'd say, "I'm sorry, Mr. Oldshue, I'm hard of hearing—would you please repeat that last line?"

And he'd say: "We don't actually get any funding."

Then with a wink at the jury, I'd say, "No further questions." And the judge would say: "The witness may step down". (Obviously I’ve watched one too many episodes of Better Call Saul.)

Healey and Reifman must've drawn the short straws, because the job fell to them to convince the public that what we all see is not really what we all see. Or as Richard Pryor once put it: "Who you gonna believe—me or your lying eyes?"

In their letter to Crain's, Healey and Reifman began by bashing the reporters for "failing to understand the typical approach to how the city expends TIF funds." (God help us if this is typical.) They also wildly exaggerated "the enormous public benefits" of the hotel and Navy Pier project, and boldly declared: "In short, no TIF funds were diverted to Navy Pier."

Got that, Chicago? Just run along, 'cause there's nothing here for you to see.

As Healey and Reifman explain it, MPEA "advanced" $55 million for the hotel project. Then the city "contributed" $55 million to MPEA as "a reimbursement." And then, and only then, did MPEA "have sufficient funds to support" other "projects, including a capital investment in the improvement of Navy Pier."

Hmmm. That sure sounds like a roundabout way of saying, in legalese, the same thing Oldshue had written in his e-mail.

"While somewhat complicated, this type of funding source and cash flow timing scenario is not fiscal trickery nor sleight-of-hand," Healey and Reifman write. Ultimately, the letter from the mayor's minions echoes the message the Emanuel administration communicated to the people of Chicago in a 2012 video called "What's a TIF?": TIFs are hard and you are dumb, so don't worry your pretty little head about it.

The apparent context for Piergate is that Rahm wanted to spend way more than he cared to admit for these vanity projects. But instead of coming out and saying so, he got slick. He said we desperately need $55 million for the hotel, otherwise it won't get built. And he said almost nothing about how much the Navy Pier job was going to cost—or how it would be paid.

The South Loop TIF deal broke in 2013, when many of us were up in arms over Rahm closing schools and mental health clinics. If the mayor had made it clear he needed all those millions for the hotel and Navy Pier, the outcry would've been even louder than it was. So Rahm kept quiet because he wanted it all—the hotel and the Navy Pier renovation. He shouldn't have gotten anything until he'd first taken care of public safety, the schools, and mental health clinics—the things that matter most to the city.

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Local noise-rock trio Montrose Man debut an unsettling music video

Posted By on 07.27.17 at 12:00 PM

  • courtesy the artist
  • Montrose Man

This Saturday at the Empty Bottle, two hot local trios celebrate new records: headliners Absolutely Not welcome their brand-new spazz-punk opus Errors into the world, and noise-rock trio Montrose Man release their debut album, Lazy Looker, into the wild.

Montrose Man are a super-loud grungy outfit fronted by Bleach Party's Meg MacDuff and featuring Matt Haywood of postpunks Beat Drun Juel on drums. They combine the influences of heady Touch and Go noise-rock and pummeling Sub Pop grunge, and by adding a huge dose of MacDuff's distinctive melodic sense they transform those sounds into something that's simultaneously miserable and epic.

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Report: Trump ‘gets a kick out of personally needling’ Rahm Emanuel, and other Chicago news

Posted By on 07.27.17 at 06:00 AM

President Donald Trump speaks in the White House Rose Garden Wednesday afternoon. - AP PHOTO/ALEX BRANDON
  • AP Photo/Alex Brandon
  • President Donald Trump speaks in the White House Rose Garden Wednesday afternoon.

Welcome to the Reader's morning briefing for Thursday, July 27, 2017.

  • Report: Trump "gets a kick out of personally needling Emanuel" when criticizing Chicago gun violence

President Donald Trump slammed Mayor Rahm Emanuel again at a rally in Youngstown, Ohio, Tuesday night. "This month in Chicago, there have been more than two homicide victims per day. What the hell is going on in Chicago?" the president said. "Better tell that mayor to get tough, because it's not working what they're doing." Trump frequently talks about Chicago gun violence "because he gets a kick out of personally needling Emanuel," a White House source told the Sun-Times. [Sun-Times]

  • Data: Hate crimes could reach a record high in Chicago in 2017

Chicago could see a record number of hate crimes in 2017, according to DNAinfo Chicago. Over the first half of the year the CPD has classified 39 crimes as hate crimes, which puts the city on pace to surpass the previous record of 73 hate crimes in 2016. [DNAinfo Chicago]

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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Buena Park decides to welcome Haymarket Books to the neighborhood after all

Posted By on 07.26.17 at 04:32 PM

The Buena Park mansion that will be the new home of Haymarket Books - VHT STUDIOS
  • VHT Studios
  • The Buena Park mansion that will be the new home of Haymarket Books

After a contentious neighborhood meeting that turned into a battle with rival social media accounts and a nasty leaflet campaign, it's now official: Haymarket Books will be moving into Buena Park after all.

The nonprofit book publisher had its hearing at the Zoning Board of Appeals last Friday and learned on Monday that it had received its special use permit for the mansion at the corner of Buena and Clarendon. This will allow Haymarket to turn the first floor into a reading room where it will host readings and other special events, although the building will still be zoned as residential, not commercial.

"We're really excited to finally have our own space that we’ll be proud to invite people to," says Jim Plank, a spokesman for Haymarket. He says the publisher will receive the permit at the next committee meeting in mid-August and close on the sale at the end of the month. They've hired an architect to work on renovations and repairs—among other things, the building needs a new roof—but Plank says they're planning to move in sometime in early 2018.

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Aura Curiatlas Physical Theatre’s A Life With No Limits ranges from human caregivers to fundamental particles

Posted By on 07.26.17 at 01:30 PM

A Life With No Limits - GEOFF WADE
  • Geoff Wade
  • A Life With No Limits

It's hard enough coming up with a dance, let alone one about the discoveries of wheelchair-bound astrophysicist Stephen Hawking. Hawking, of course, was diagnosed with ALS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, shortly after his 21st birthday. As his health has deteriorated over the last 50 years, so has his mobility. He now requires a staff of nearly 40 people to care for him; at least four remain by his side at all hours of the day.

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Dunkirk and Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets are alive with the sound of money

Posted By on 07.26.17 at 12:18 PM

  • Dunkirk
In a famous put-down, Pauline Kael once referred to The Sound of Music as "The Sound of Money," implying that the film's expensive production values distracted from any of its virtues. I was reminded of her line when I watched a couple of recent releases, Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk and Luc Besson's Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. These are handsome, rousing movies that provide the biggest sense of spectacle that money can buy, and neither lets you forget how much was spent in the service of its spectacle. Dunkirk is a serious WWII film while Valerian is an unserious space opera, yet both encourage viewers to ooh and ah at the detailed, large-scale imagery, with characterization getting lost in the fray.

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There’s a room with a view on the gig poster of the week

Posted By on 07.26.17 at 07:00 AM


ARTIST: Ash Windbigler
SHOW: Sweet Lil', Basement Family, and Junegrass at the Owl on Sun 8/6

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Judge continues block of Cook County ‘pop tax’ until at least Friday, and other Chicago news

Posted By on 07.26.17 at 06:00 AM

Sugar-free beverages are also covered by the penny-per-ounce tax still on hold pending a final ruling. - AP PHOTO/KEITH SRAKOCIC
  • AP Photo/Keith Srakocic
  • Sugar-free beverages are also covered by the penny-per-ounce tax still on hold pending a final ruling.

Welcome to the Reader's morning briefing for Wednesday, July 26, 2017.

  • Judge continues Cook County "pop tax" block until at least Friday

A Cook County judge has ruled that the controversial penny-per-ounce tax on sugary beverages will remain blocked until at least Friday, July 28, according to DNAinfo Chicago. Judge Daniel Kubasiak, who initially blocked the county's tax from being implemented on July 1, will make an official ruling on the tax Friday afternoon. Opponents of the policy say it's not fair that the law would tax, e.g., a Starbucks Frappuccino purchased at a convenience store but not one sold at a Starbucks location. "If the goal is to reduce obesity, then these drinks should be treated the same," Illinois Retail Merchants Association attorney David Ruskin said. [DNAinfo Chicago]

  • City Council committee approves safety equipment requirement for large trucks

The City Council Budget Committee approved an ordinance Tuesday that protects pedestrians and bikers by requiring safety equipment on large trucks. Mayor Rahm Emanuel backed the ordinance, which gives trucks about ten years to add more side-view mirrors and side guards. The full City Council is expected to vote on the measure Wednesday. [Tribune]

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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Alison Cuddy’s appointment at Chicago Humanities Festival signals an important change

Posted By on 07.25.17 at 02:20 PM

Alison Cuddy is CHF's new artistic director - BEN GONZALES
  • Ben Gonzales
  • Alison Cuddy is CHF's new artistic director

Not counting cofounder Eileen Mackevich, who once did just about everything at Chicago Humanities Festival, current staff member Alison Cuddy will be the festival's first full-time artistic director and first full-time Chicago resident to hold the job. Although Cuddy's an insider, her promotion is evidence of a major change at the organization—the attempt to break out of its narrow calendar slot as a festival and to function as a year-round entity.

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What will the closure of Permanent Records’ Chicago store mean for the local music community?

Posted By on 07.25.17 at 01:36 PM

Permanent Records on Monday, July 24 - PORTER MCLEOD
  • Porter McLeod
  • Permanent Records on Monday, July 24

The weekly e-mail newsletters from Permanent Records are a treat for collectors of obscure and out-there rock records—particularly if you're eager to find out which new arrivals pique the interest of the knowledgable and enthusiastic staff. But yesterday morning co-owner Lance Barresi sent a sad message to the store's e-mail list: Permanent Records will close its Chicago shop in September. Barresi and co-owner Liz Tooley launched Permanent Records in its Ukrainian Village storefront in October 2006, and they've slowly expanded the store's cultural footprint since. In 2007 they launched an in-house label, which has released stellar records from noisy contemporary bands (Cacaw, Running) and archival recordings of forgotten local acts (the Chicago Triangle, Bad Axe, VCSR). In summer 2011 Barresi and Tooley decamped to LA to open a second Permanent location, and they've since set up two additional LA stores. This summer, things came to a head for the Chicago outlet. "It's very difficult to run a business from afar," Barresi says.

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