The Windy City Becoming Subsidy City

City Kicks in $51M for Old Post Office Project

For a city struggling so badly to balance its budget -- it's socking its satellite dish owners and Dumpster-users -- Chicago isn't shirking on economic development handouts.

Nearly lost in the news last week of a new hotel-condo-office complex proposal for the now-vacant Old Post Office that straddles the Congress Expressway was the fact that the city's taxpayers are donating $51 million to the project.

But surprisingly, one frequent critic of mayoral budgeting thinks the Old Post Office deal may be a good one.

"On the surface, the city's recent proposal to give a real estate consortium roughly $51 million to develop the Old Central Post Office looks like another unwarranted handout to the rich and well connected," Ben Joravsky of the Readerwrote last year. "But in fact, this is one of the few tax increment financing deals that actually makes some sense -- which just goes to show you how demented the program has become."

The city also recently announced it was kicking in another $12 million to the ill-fated Block 37, a far more disastrous project.

City subsidies in various forms are nothing new, but they have become so routine they hardly seem questioned anymore. One can't help but recall the controversy over $52 million in tax credits the city and state used to lure Boeing's national headquarters here seven years ago - more, Boeing officials later admitted, than was necessary.

"By giving so generously to Boeing, the city has also backed itself into a corner," BusinessWeek Chicago reported last spring. "These days, tax breaks are de rigueur not just for newcomers, such as United Airlines, which moved from Elk Grove Township; the city has also had to dole out money to retain such corporate residents as Navteq."

The good news then, is that the Old Post Office project subsidy might actually make (relative) sense. The bad news is that city subsidies and tax credits to corporations and developers have become so routine they barely seem to constitute news.

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