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The [Friday] Papers

"Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Thursday would not provide a full financial picture of his administration's deal to redevelop the Malcolm X College site into a Blackhawks practice center and a Rush University expansion," the Tribune reports.

Welcome to Chicago: Quod tibi necesse erit FOIA - you'll have to FOIA that.

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"As part of the musical chairs on the Near West Side, City Colleges of Chicago will move into a new $251 million campus for Malcolm X on a parcel just north of the college's current site. When that project is completed in January, Emanuel said the city will take steps to start redeveloping the 11-acre campus on West Van Buren Street for the Blackhawks and Rush.

"The city would pay to tear down the old Malcolm X buildings and prepare the site for construction. The Blackhawks will purchase four acres for its practice facility, while Rush would buy the remaining seven acres."

Here's where it gets interesting:

"Asked what the Blackhawks would pay for the land, Emanuel responded: 'They're going to be paying market rate . . . Our job as the city will be making the land available, which means taking down the old Malcolm X.'"

But just two paragraphs later:

"Emanuel also was asked whether the Blackhawks would get a discount on the purchase price for the land in exchange for making its rinks available to the public.

"They'll have all the information on that," Emanuel said of his staff. "Know that it will be a net gain for the city from a financial standpoint, not even counting what they're doing in the sense of community work."

So what did the mayor just say?

He said the Blackhawks would pay market rate for the land it will purchase from the city. And then he refused to say the Blackhawks would pay market rate for the land it will purchase from the city. I tend to go with the latter because A) this is Chicago; B) it's Rahm Emanuel, and; C) while dodging the question, Rahm was quite eager to advise reporters that, no matter what, the deal will be a net financial gain for the city.

In fact, that became something of a mantra for Rahm on Thursday - or at least a talking point he was eager to reinforce.

"When the mayor was asked how much it would cost to tear down the old college, he responded, 'We'll get you all that information. Know that the net result will be resources that come back to the city, because when you're done with the demolition of the facility, (with the Blackhawks) paying market rate, there will be additional resources for the city.'"

Just know that the net result will be more bullshit than you started with.

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Reporters were directed to get financial details from "staff." Here's what happened when at least one of them tried:

"Later, however, Emanuel spokeswoman Elizabeth Langsdorf declined to say how much the demolition work would cost the city. And Langsdorf declined to say how much the site preparation would cost because bids had not gone out yet. She declined to provide an estimate."

That's not entirely implausible: The city could have said to the Blackhawks, Hey, we'll pay for the demolition, and left it at that. Or it could have figured out its costs the way any smart negotiator would and put it on the table while discussing the deal. Even if bids haven't gone out yet on the demolition, businesses generally know what that sort of thing takes.

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And then back to market rate again:

"Langsdorf also would not disclose how much Rush and the Blackhawks will pay for the land, other than to say it would 'exceed market value with a mix of cash and community benefits.' Langsdorf would not identify the specific community benefits or their value."

Which sounds just like the sort of deal the mayor was asked about: A discount on the land in exchange for the community rink the Blackhawks are building alongside their practice rink. Which in effect means the city is building the community rink.

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"'Nothing is being hidden,' Langsdorf said. 'The final paperwork isn't done. As soon as the purchase agreement is finalized, the details will be made available. No one is rushing anything.'"

Hey, who said anything about rushing?!

But yeah, the details are rarely made available in this administration. At least Langsdorf gave the Tribune its headline.

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"Ald. Walter Burnett Jr., 27th, said this was not the first parcel the Blackhawks considered for the facility and that the team had been persistent about striking a deal.

"Wirtz and Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf, whose teams jointly own the United Center, previously had talked about building a $100 million entertainment and retail complex next to the arena, but sought a replacement for current tax incentives set to expire in 2016. When the city didn't agree to such a change, the teams pursued a more modest office complex plan near the stadium."

Punks.

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"There also has been talk of the teams seeking a guaranteed freeze in the city's amusement tax on sports tickets in exchange for future development by the teams. Wirtz said Thursday that such a freeze was not discussed as part of the deal to build the Blackhawks practice center."

Good. As long as he didn't receive the "private assurances" he was seeking, which he may not consider part of the discussion per se.

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Am I being too skeptical? Well, here's how oft-mayoral flunky Fran Spielman wrote it up for the Sun-Times:

"Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Thursday basked in the glow of an agreement to bring a $50 million Blackhawks practice facility and new academic buildings for Rush University Medical Center to the site of the old Malcolm X College without saying what the deal would cost Chicago taxpayers."

That's the lead.

My guess is that the truth will slowly leak out over the next couple of years until Ben Joravsky puts it all together and we just shake our heads.

And this isn't even a very complicated deal. And it's also pretty cool; who doesn't want a community ice rink next to the Blackhawks' facilities? But can they make the community ice rink a neighborhood school, and fully fund it?

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"Chicago taxpayers will be asked to foot the bill for demolishing the building and preparing the site for construction. But the mayor did not put a price tag on those items either.

"There is no public support, financial support for this endeavor," Emanuel said.

Depends on how you define "public support."

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"Pressed on how much it would cost to demolish the site and do environmental clean-up, the mayor said, 'We'll get you all of that information. But know that the net result will be resources that will come back to the city.'"

*

"We went to the mayor, I don't know, seems like several years ago," Wirtz said. "I don't think it was quite that long. And we said we want to do something really special on the West Side."

How special? This special:

"At one point during the sometimes contentious negotiations, Wirtz privately sought assurances from Emanuel of an amusement tax freeze."

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"The revenue package tied to the mayor's 2015 budget counted on raising an additional $4.4 million by forcing the owners of skyboxes at Soldier Field, Wrigley Field, the United Center and U.S. Cellular Field to pay the city's 9 percent amusement tax instead of getting a 40 percent break. Asked Thursday if he got that assurance, Wirtz said, 'We never even discussed it.'"

Instead, Rahm just winked and Rocky just nudged.

(Which, by the way, is enough to convict for extortion, according to the appellate court ruling in the Blago case.)

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Note: After leading her article with Rahm not willing to tell us how much this venture will cost taxpayers, Spielman ends with praise for his hardball negotiating tactics.

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"When it came to building a new practice facility for the Blackhawks, Rocky Wirtz could have stopped with plans that called for the installation of one sheet of ice for his team's use," Chris Kuc writes for the Tribune. "Instead, the chairman of the Stanley Cup champions had a much grander vision."

Oh please. My understanding - and I could be wrong - is that the Blackhawks originally wanted a $25 million practice facility subsidized by taxpayers and with an assurance that amusement taxes would be capped. If my understanding is correct, the community rink was added (doubling the cost of the project) as a way to sell the deal by adding a "community benefit." I'm not saying that was the wrong thing to do; it's a pretty cool thing to do. But it was done in the service of meeting the Blackhawks' objective, not because a community ice rink was a city priority.

*

Greg Hinz with the backstory for Crain's:

More than a year ago, Hawks owner Rocky Wirtz floated plans to build a practice facility and neighborhood ice rink east of the United Center, near where UC co-owner Jerry Reinsdorf's Chicago Bulls just put up their own practice center. Emanuel, who like all politicians loves a winner, immediately signed on.

But they had a problem. The parking lots on which the facility would be built aren't controlled by the city or Wirtz but by private owners who didn't want to sell - and some of who reportedly use as their tax lawyer John Cullerton. That's the same John Cullerton who is president of the Illinois Senate and a key Emanuel ally in trying to get critical state aid out of a stalemated Springfield.

For many months now, city officials have been trying to put together a deal to assemble the parking lots and make them available to Wirtz. Emanuel would ask and ask and ask, city officials would try and try and try, and nothing would happen. Some of the lots were part of family businesses that had been operating for generations, one insider tells me. "They just didn't want to sell."

Suddenly, after the Hawks won their third championship in six years, someone had a brainstorm. With Malcolm X's old building soon to be empty, and just two blocks away from the UC, why not put the hockey facility there?

That someone who had the brainstorm must not be named Rahm Emanuel or we'd be hearing all about it.

*

"Shazzam! A little City Hall magic occurred, and in a month, a deal was done. And believe it or not, sources on both sides swear that Wirtz's request for a halt to further increases in the city amusement tax is not part of the deal. At least not officially."

Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

*

Hinz makes two additional points I haven't seen elsewhere:

"The hockey facility will be good for Chicago, even if a nice and reusable building will be demolished in the process. So will an expansion of the Rush complex. But two things still need resolving:

"Meanwhile, it's really too bad that a not-too-old Malcolm X structure that could have been put to other uses is being demolished. And, someone please condemn and buy out those parking lots, which are killing needed development near the UC."

*

Lastly, don't forget the Rush University part of the deal:

"Rush University Medical Center is considering building a state-of-the-art medical school and student housing on the site of Malcolm X College, creating an educational hub for its students and faculty," Crain's reports.

"Rush's ideas for the Malcolm X site were born out of strategic planning the medical center is doing for its Near West Side campus, which is quickly filling up. It's looking at everything from where to put a new outpatient medical building to more space for research."

So they don't even know what they're doing with the land yet?

"Nothing is final, and he said it's too soon to say how much the plans could cost. But they likely would be expensive."

And will public money be involved?

"[CEO Larry] Goodman and a spokeswoman for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel would not say how much Rush could potentially pay for the land.

"'Rush and the city are finalizing the deal points on the purchase agreement now, which will primarily be cash, but there is a commitment to exceed the appraised market value with a mixture of cash and community benefits,' City Hall spokeswoman Elizabeth Langsdorf said in an e-mail."

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Previously: Rocky Wirtz oughta be ashamed of himself.

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The Beachwood Tip Line: By any means necessary.



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Posted on July 31, 2015


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