Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is borrowing $21 million-plus to pay for a dormant swath of land earmarked by former boss Richard M. Daley as extra space to host Olympics facilities, the Trib reports.
In an unsuccessful campaign to land the 2016 summer games—bragging rights ultimately went to Brazil—the city under Daley's tenure purchased in 2009 a South Side site that formerly housed the Michael Reese hospital. The goal: To transform the 49-acre property into an Olympic Village. According to the Trib, the Daley administration reasoned that the site could be sold in a snap should Chicago lose the Olympics—that was before real estate woes thwarted its market potential. Write the paper's Hal Dardick and John Byrne:
City Hall must now find the money to pay off both those loans and the $14.2 million or so due next year for principal and interest on the South Side property. Taxpayers will be on the hook for as much as $134 million during the next decade — the $91 million purchase price plus about $43 million in net interest and development costs — unless the city can find a company to start developing the land.
Emanuel's office in 2013 proposed myriad possibilities to develop the area below McCormick Place, from a hotel compound to a casino to President Obama's library and museum, which the embattled, reelection-seeking mayor is dying to snag for Chicago as part of his pledge to drive international tourism here.
None of the pitches have panned out, and Emanuel must now add the Michael Reese payments to his debt pile as he hammers out a 2015 budget that factors out tax hikes on sales, gas and property. His rep in the budget department, Carl Gutierrez, said the mayor aims "to right the city's financial ship," which may include more borrowing down the line amid other debt-busting options.
His job performance suffering, Emanuel is seeking a second term in office. He faces a challenge from progressive 2nd Ward Ald. Bob Fioretti, who recently announced a mayoral run, and may soon find himself battling Chicago Teachers Union firebrand Karen Lewis should she decide to throw her hat into the ring.