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September 02, 2011
Emanuel to back $200m in Wrigley Field subsidies?
Catching up on this late, but apparently Rahm Emanuel, the Obama hatchet man turned mayor of Chicago, is willing to put up as much as $200 million in city money towards a renovation of the Cubs' privately owned Wrigley Field. Or so say the "sources" cited by Crain's Chicago Business:
According to insiders, the team has pitched a range of public-funding options, from allowing the team to use amusement-tax revenues to pay for renovations to a sales or property-tax subsidy, a state credit for rebuilding an historic structure and bonds that would be issued by the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority, which owns the field where the White Sox play.
Some of those ideas already have been shot down. For instance, a source close to Mr. Emanuel said there is no chance the mayor would back an expanded tax on restaurant meals in the Lakeview area to pay for stadium work.
But a state historic tax credit in the range of $40 million is said to be potentially doable, and the team argues that it ought to be a subsidy from new taxes that its renovation would create, in the same manner that scores of local projects have received tax-increment financing subsidies.
TIFs, of course, have a somewhat problematic history in Chicago, having been handed out so vigorously to developers by Emanuel's predecessor, Richard Daley, that the city's property tax base has been left with more holes than the Cubs' starting rotation. And as the Chicago Reader notes:
There are no real community economic development benefits to be gained by pumping $200 million into Wrigley Field. The surrounding Wrigleyville area is already booming—as wild on weekends as the French Quarter in New Orleans.
There are certainly other areas in town—like most of the west and south sides—far more deserving of public subsidies. And, as we all know, the schools and city are deep in the red.
All in all, it's really not a good time to essentially take money that could go to public school students—among other worthy recipients—and turn it over to a baseball team.
Especially one that's as wretched as the Cubs. Sorry, easy target.
The Reader goes on to note that Cubs owner Tom Ricketts is rich enough to afford to pay for renovations himself — which, while true enough, is sort of beside the point, since it's unlikely that $400 million worth of renovations is going to produce $400 million worth of new revenues. Which does raise the question of why a major renovation is desirable in the first place, but then, we know what the response to that is.
In all, given the lack of details (the Crain's article just alludes to possible kickbacks of property taxes or amusement taxes, the latter being a rehash of the Cubs' previous plan), the unnamed sources, and the fact that it dropped in mid-August, this feels more like a trial balloon than anything. Still, it's probably a sign that the Wrigley subsidy debates are likely to heat up again, once everyone has had time to forget about the Cubs' season.