Mayor Rahm's TIF games: Marriott and DePaul vs. the kids of Chicago



Even with Mayor Emanuels recent born-again conversion to a school builder, Marriott and DePaul are beating the public school children in the latest race for TIF cash.
  • Chandler West/Sun-Times Media
  • Even with Mayor Emanuel's recent born-again conversion to a school builder, Marriott and DePaul are winning the latest race for TIF cash.
As you may have noticed, Mayor Emanuel's recently undergone what can only be described as a radical transformation—becoming a born-again school advocate.

That is, he's gone from being Mayor Scrooge, closing 50 schools and firing thousands of school employees, to Mayor Teacher, holding four press conferences in four days to announce one school construction project after another.

Now I know there are those jaded observers out there who contend the mayor's reawakening has less to do with love for public education and more to do with internal polls that show his school cuts and closings have made him even less popular in Chicago than the Green Bay Packers.

So let's see . . .

Is the mayor a crass and cynical political operative who's looking out for number one? Or is he wise and benevolent ruler who really, really cares about the public school children of Chicago?

I'll leave that discussion for another day.

At the moment my chief preoccupation is keeping a running tab of who's doing better in the most recent incarnation of the mayor's TIF games: the 578 schools in CPS, or DePaul, one private university.

Before I announce the winner, let's have an explanation . . .

The tax increment financing program is, of course, the one in which you pay property taxes in the names of things you presumably want, like schools, only to see the Chicago Public Schools hand that money over to Mayor Emanuel.

Leaving him free to spend it on things you don't necessarily want—like a new basketball arena for DePaul in the South Loop.

That's DePaul as in a private university that charges around $30,000 a year in tuition and can afford to build its own arena without a public handout. Not that it really needs one. Because, let's face it, they haven't had a high-quality team anyone would want to watch since sometime in the Reagan administration.

Nonetheless, earlier this year, Mayor Emanuel pledged to spend $55 million in TIF money to buy some South Loop land on which DePaul can construct its arena.

Of course, that was before the mayor had his born-again conversion into Mayor Teacher. Now that he's had that conversion, he's probably trying to figure some way out of the DePaul deal so he can spend the $55 million on the public schools.

Well, it's a possibility.

Back to my calculations of who's ahead in the recent TIF games.

So far the mayor's proposed to spend $17 million in TIF money building an addition for Payton high school, and $24 million in TIF funds to modernize three schools on the west side.

And another $1 million to help alleviate overcrowding at the Gallistel and Jane Addams elementary schools.

So when you add it all together that's $42 million for the public schools. And $55 million for DePaul.

DePaul wins again! Man, if only beating Louisville were so easy.

Hold it! Correction!

DePaul's not the only one getting a slice of that $55 million.

No, no, no! The mayor's also earmarked some of those millions to buy land for a hotel near the corner of Cermak and Michigan—across the street from where the arena will go. Must not forget that hotel.

In fact, just last week, McPier—the state/city entity overseeing the project—announced that Marriott will run the hotel.

I suppose there might be some taxpayers who want their property tax dollars, taken in the name of public schools, to in fact be spent for the benefit of Marriott, a privately run business with about $12 billion in revenue and close ties to Mitt Romney, who used to sit on the company's board.

But I just haven't heard any of them speak up at any public hearings.

Of course, Mayor Emanuel may announce a few more TIF-funded school projects in the coming days. Especially if this recent round of press conferences doesn't sufficiently boost his poll numbers.

Then, again, I'll bet you lunch at Popeye's it will cost more than $55 million to buy that South Loop land for Marriott and DePaul.

The TIF games are just warming up.

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