Emanuel, Clinton Unveil Massive Infrastructure Trust

With promises that it'll allow Chicago to "control its own destiny," Mayor Rahm Emanuel and former President Bill Clinton on Thursday unveiled the Chicago Infrastructure Trust to finance "transformative" renewal projects in the city.

The first project of the Trust -- dubbed "Retrofit Chicago" -- will work with debt and equity investors to finance $200-$250 million worth of energy-efficiency projects in city buildings, creating more than 2,000 jobs and ultimately saving taxpayers $20 million annually, the pair said Thursday.

"Nothing is more crucial to our long-term competitiveness and job creation than infrastructure," Emanuel said in a written statement prior to the announcement at the Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters Apprentice & Training Facility off of West Cermak Road.

The announcement had all the trappings of a White House event. It was held in a union hall, set with a forklift in the foreground and stacks of plywood. Several aldermen and key labor leaders were in attendance.

Through his foundation, Clinton has worked with large cities like Chicago on energy efficiency initiatives, making his interest in Retrofit Chicago clear.

"I have seen first-hand how investments in our infrastructure can modernize our country, get people to work and improve our economic strength through energy efficiency," Clinton said in the press release.

Five financing firms -- Citibank, N.A., Citi Infrastructure Investors, Macquarie Infrastructure and Real Assets Inc., J.P. Morgan Asset Management Infrastructure Investment Group and Ullico -- have each agreed to consider the projects that the Trust is undertaking and evaluate them for investment.

Trust money would be used to finance major projects, initially putting construction workers into jobs. The buildings would see reduced energy costs and would initially use those savings to pay back the loans provided by the Trust. One the loans are repaid, the building would continue to reap the savings.

The Trust must be approved by the City Council, which would oversee its investments.

This isn't the first time Clinton visited Chicago to support Emanuel, a Clinton senior adviser in the '90s.

The former president boosted Emanuel during a campaign rally early last year for the mayoral race, speaking highly of candidate-Emanuel and even calling him "one of the pivotal reasons I was elected."

Both men talked together last June during the kick off to the Clinton Global Initiative conference about the challenges to creating jobs in urban and rural areas.

On Wednesday, Emanuel unveiled the first draft of a 10-point plan to boost Chicago's economy and create jobs. Some of the goals include becoming a lead hub for advanced manufacturing, making the city business friendly and making sure Chicago is a lead exporter. 

Tourism is a big part of the plan too. It calls for making Chicago a premier tourist and entertainment destination.

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