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Penny Pritzker’s TIF

School board member Penny Pritzker’s Hyatt Hotels Corp. is benefiting from a $5.2 million TIF subsidy on 53rd Street – while CPS’s proposed 2013 budget cuts seven schools surrounding the hotel project by $3.4 million, which is roughly the portion CPS is losing from the TIF deal.

“This one example shows the fundamental corruption in the way things are done here,” said David Orlikoff of the Chicago Teachers Solidarity Campaign, a labor and community coalition growing out of Occupy Chicago’s labor committee and supporting the Chicago Teachers Union.

CTSC will hold a press conference and speakout and picket the project at 53rd and Harper on Wednesday, August 8, starting at 5:30 p.m.

“As a member of the Board of Education, it’s Penny Pritzker’s job to find money for our schools, not to take our money for her business,” Orlikoff said.

The $5.2 million subsidy is part of $20.4 million in TIF funds going to the University of Chicago-led redevelopment of Harper Court (see here for some background).  In addition to the hotel, the university is building a 12-story office building in the first phase of the project.

CTSC points out that Pritzker has a net worth of $1.8 billion, and the University of Chicago – now engaged in a huge campus expansion – has an endowment of $6.6 billion.

“They have plenty of money,” said Lorraine Chavez of CTSC.  “They don’t need a taxpayer subsidy to pay for it.  It’s outrageous.”

At Catalyst, Penny Pritzker clarifies that she’s not personally receiving the $5.2 million, and in a statement to Newstips, Hyatt points out that the Hyde Park Hyatt will not be owned by the corporation but, like many Hyatts, operated under a franchise agreement, thus “neither Hyatt Hotels Corporation nor Penny Pritzker…is receiving TIF funds as a result of this project.”

Conflict of interest

“The school board should be defending school funding when the mayor wants to take it for TIFs; it’s the only body in a position to do that,” Orlikoff said.  “But they’re appointed by the mayor, and they look the other way.

“Then they tell teachers they don’t have any money for anything, except the mayor’s pet projects.  It’s a conflict of interest – and it will be a conflict until the school board is elected.

“We need representation on the school board, and we need to end the chronic underfunding of our schools,” Orlikoff said.

CTSC, which exists “to support teachers and fight for equitable quality education,” calls for increasing school funding “by reclaiming TIFs and taxing the rich.”

TIF is “a failed program,” Orlikoff said.  “It’s not fighting economic blight, it’s a way of taking from everyone and giving to the One Percent.”

Questions on 53rd Street

There are lots of questions right now about the 53rd Street TIF, especially with a new TIF district now being carved out of it by a second developer.

Antheus Capital, planning an upscale residential and retail development at 51st and Lake Park, wants to break its parcel out of the 53rd Street TIF to form its own TIF district —  in order apply for $10 million or more in TIF funds.  The 53rd Street TIF advisory council has okayed the proposal.

But after ten years of operation, the 53rd Street TIF fund has a balance of just $3.7 million.

Now, with thirteen years to go, it’s on the hook for a $20-million subsidy, while revenues are slowing (due not just to a lousy economy but to the County Assessor’s new formula, which shifts the property tax burden from commercial to residential taxpayers) – and the TIF district is getting smaller.

Read the rest of this entry »

To tell the truth

A former editor of the Chicago Tribune has a neighborhood newspaper mad at her for withholding information.

You’d think Ann Marie Lipinski, who became Vice President for Civic Engagement at the University of Chicago last September, would have learned something from her first assignment, which was to smooth things over after Alderman Pat Dowell discovered that the University was secretly buying up tracts of land on West Garfield Boulevard.

On August 13, Lipinski met with Gabriel Piemonte, editor of the Hyde Park Herald [and Herald general manager Sue Walker].  He asked “five different ways” for information on the demolition of Harper Court (which we discussed here last year).  Lipinski was not forthcoming.

The next day the bulldozers appeared and began demolishing the building housing the Dixie Kitchen (the restaurant recently made famous by Barack Obama on WTTW’s “Check Please”).

The demolition seems gratuitous, in that no developer has been chosen and the restaurant in the building next door has a lease that runs several more years, which (along with a lousy economy) would seem to make redevelopment anything but imminent.

The refusal to inform the Herald seems gratuitous too, especially since the Thursday meeting was a week away from the paper’s Wednesday publication date.

When the Herald complained in an editorial on August 26, Lipinski wrote back that the demolition schedule had been presented at the Hyde Park TIF Council’s June meeting, “a public gathering typically covered by the Herald.” She went on to emphasize “the very public nature of the Harper Court development.”

A editor’s note following the letter pointed out that the TIF council hadn’t met in June.

Piemonte says the reporter who covers the council remembered no mention of Harper Court demolition.  They searched the minutes — no record of any mention in May or July meetings.

So it would seem a refusal to inform is followed by an explanation that involves outright misinformation.  It’s probably better to tell the truth in the first place.

Harper Court rebate?

Could the University of Chicago get a few million dollars back on the $6.5 million purchase price for Harper Court

The Harper Court Arts Council, which is selling the nonprofit shopping center to the University, has said it will disburse its assets to local cultural charities, and earlier listed the University’s multimillion dollar drive to build a new performing arts center as a possible recipient.

A spokesperson at the Attorney General’s office thought that might be legal.

The bigger question, though, is whether the resulting redevelopment will be worse than the University’s first development disaster, the urban renewal program of the 1960s (see Jane Jacob’s “Death and Life of Great American Cities” for details; Arnold Hirsch explores the racial motivations in “The Making of the Second Ghetto”).

The track record of the dominant parties is not promising.

Read the rest of this entry »

Harper Court For Sale?

Community groups in Hyde Park are demanding open discussion of the future of Harper Court after learning that the nonprofit foundation which owns the neighborhood shopping center has taken steps to sell it to a developer.

Representatives of community groups are scheduled to meet with the attorney general’s office to discuss the sale, and the Hyde Park Kenwood Community Conference has requested a meeting with representatives of the Harper Court Foundation, said HPKCC president George Rumsey.

Harper Court tenant Dr. Tom Wake of the Hyde Park Animal Clinic said he was informed in mid-December that downtown developer JDI Realty had signed a letter of intent to purchase Harper Court, according to the Hyde Park Herald. Later it was learned that the foundation had deeded the property to the Harper Court Arts Council, an offshoot of the foundation, on December 8.

The Harper Court Foundation was established in 1965 to provide affordable retail space for some of the 600 small businesses displaced by urban renewal, including residents of an artists’ colony on 57th Street that had been demolished. Construction of the multilevel off-street shopping center, located on Harper between 52nd and 53rd Streets, was financed with federal small business loans and bonds bought by hundreds of Hyde Parkers.

The arts council was established by the foundation in 1990 to run the annual Hyde Park Community Art Fair and promote artistic activity in schools and the community. Its independent board, which included members of the Artisans 21 cooperative located in Harper Court, was replaced in November when members’ terms expired; new arts council officers are all individuals previously listed as Harper Court Foundation officers.

A former arts council board member said that group had never discussed buying or selling Harper Court.

A spokesperson for the Illinois Attorney General said the Harper Court Foundation has never filed an annual report with that office and was recently asked to do so.

“There are just so many unanswered questions,” said Rumsey. “What’s happening? What’s the future of the Court? Which board controls it? Why was this decided? What happens to the businesses there?” Another question he has: what process led to the selection of the developer?

“It seems like they’re going out of their way to avoid informing the public,” Rumsey said. “Whatever happens there is going to have a significant impact on Hyde Park for the next 50 years.”

An ad-hoc group called Neighbors to Save Harper Court has scheduled a meeting with Therese Harris, Assistant Attorney General for Charitable Trusts. The group is also petitioning Alderman Toni Preckwinkle to help “preserve Harper Court.”

The shopping center’s troubles have resulted because “it’s been so mismanaged for the 25 years I’ve been here,” said Wake. With rare exception, he said, “there’s been no management.” The center’s affordable rents have allowed him to run a practice which serves animal owners of all income levels, he said.

Calls to Harper Court Foundation executive director Leslie Morgan and president Paula Jones, an officer of Hyde Park Bank, were not returned. David Rattner of JDI Realty declined to comment.

There is “no connection” between the sale of Harper Court and the University of Chicago’s recent request for proposals to develop the historic Hyde Park Theater building directly north on Harper Avenue, said Hank Webber, the University’s vice president for community affairs. The University is the leaseholder for the new Checkerboard Lounge in Harper Court, and a University official sits on the Harper Court Foundation board.

If the Harper Court Arts Council sells the property and disburses the funds to nonprofit cultural institutions, the University of Chicago could be a major recipient, observers say.

Harper Court was in the news in 2002 when Morgan removed chess benches that had been a traditional gathering place; community protests at the time were unsuccessful. “That to me was the beginning of the end,” said Sonya Csaszar of Neighbors to Save Harper Court. “They never listened to the community.”

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