Jeff Long and Ken Manson report at the Chicago Tribune about the troubles that are beginning to ensnare the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates. It was a story covered in part in this column too, when the United Hockey League Chicago Hounds were unable to reach an agreement with the Sears Centre for a lease renewal and folded. It could also be the future story of the Metro Centre in Rockford, home of the American Hockey League Rockford IceHogs and it could also be the story of the 2016 Olympics in Chicago.
Public funding of large venues, from the Cell to the renovation of Soldier Field, has promised great financial rewards. But, according to the story by Long, the village of Hoffman Estates is on the hook for millions in bond repayments if the venue isn't profitable. First, of course, the current owners, a combination of the Ryan Companies US of Minneapolis and Sears Holdings must move to terminate their ownership. Sears had helped to sell the deal to the village by promising to cover the bond payments for four years, according to the story. Now that the four years are up, the ownership group is looking to bail. Potentially holding the bag: the good citizens of Hoffman Estates.
Cal Skinner, a well-known writer who edits the McHenry County Blog, has been following the effort by Crystal Lake to create a minor league baseball stadium in his blog. Skinner lists a number of studies that question some of the key sales points of proponents for large sports venues.
But it doesn't matter what the opponents know about the lies put forward about economics by sports boosters. The boosters ignore the facts and continue to sell the dream of money falling from the sky.
Here's the reality. Over at the Illinois Sports Finance Authority, once you get past the offal about helping the community, you can see that financially, the Chicago White Sox contribute a tiny 7.3 percent of the total revenue for the last fiscal year reported. Tax payers, including visitors to the city, contribute almost 87 percent of the total revenue needed to pay the ISFA's bonds through a subsidy of $5 million from each of the city and the state general fund and “hotel” taxes.
Meanwhile, the ISFA makes this claim: “ISFA provided the public contribution, a total of $406 million, of the $606 million needed for the Chicago Lakefront Development project, including the significant restoration of Soldier Field. ISFA financed this operation through the issuance of municipal bonds backed by an existing 2 percent Authority Hotel Tax. This revenue did not come from State or City general revenue funds, nor is it a result of increased taxes for Chicago or Illinois residents.”
It is Orwellian, at least, to claim that after being funded to the tune of 87 percent of your budget, that you did not use any of it to redevelop and restore Soldier Field. Can I get my part of this back please? A simple walk around the neighborhood that once called Comiskey Park home, will demonstrate that there wasn't a large scale redevelopment of the area. While the North Side went through a massive change which was largely funded by private developers, the South Side has largely languished. Further, I think it should be argued that the massive debt loaded onto Chicago taxpayers is a subsidy to the private company which owns the Chicago White Sox. To be fair, shouldn't the taxpayers also assist the Chicago Cubs?
We live in a truly Orwellian place called Chicago. Guided by the mayor and the local Olympic boosters, we are being sold tripe about the economic benefits to the 2016 games. The mayor has defended tax increases by calling them abatements, has sold us tax increases by saying they won't effect us, just tourists.
What I see in the Sears Centre floundering is mismanagement by the Sears Centre, boosterism by the local supporters resulting in the citizens holding the bag and a warning of what could happen on a massive scale in Chicago if it pursues the 2016 games. Boosters cannot and will not see futures that challenge their rosy forecasts.
I am a citizen of Chicago, I am upset by the mismanagement by the city of its assets. I do not believe the committee and this mayor any more. I say NO to the games. NO to taxpayers assuming the risk. NO to this mayor and this inept City Council and even worse Cook County government.