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Two more nonviable projects?

June 13, 2007

Today’s Tribune tells of two more TIF subsidies, one to keep an employer in Chicago and another to build hotel and office space.

Navteq will get $5 million that would otherwise go to schools and other public services, to retain 550 jobs (a total of 900 including expected growth) in downtown Chicago.   Navteq CEO Judson Green implied that California would be a more efficient location for the company, but that $5 million persuaded him to remain in Chicago.  btw, he is obligated to donate $50,000 of that to “non-profit organizations.”  So I wonder about two things:

(1) Wouldn’t the  230,000 square feet that Navteq is taking at 100 N. Riverside have been rented to some other employer, if not Navteq?  And if it would’ve remained vacant, wouldn’t that have eased, at least a little, the peak-hour load on the CTA and Metra?

(2) If in fact California is a better location, will Navteq execs and customers end up flying back and forth, adding to O’Hare congestion and greenhouse gas?

Maybe RM Daley answered the question at his press conference to announce the deal.  If he hadn’t used our tax money to persuade Navteq to stay in the City,  “there’d be a big headline, ‘Why does Mayor Daley let those companies move?’ “  And I guess he’s right, at least in some cases.  Apparently there’s no headline, “Why does Mayor Daley waste all this money?”

The other TIF subsidy is $58.8 million, covering about 1/8th  the cost of renovating/expanding the space atop Union Station.

The new Union Station will have an additional 14 stories on top of the existing eight stories. It will house a 300-room hotel, likely to be operated by Hilton Hotels Corp.; 85,000 square feet of retail space; 200 condominiums; and 600,000 square feet of office space.

The office anchor tenant, the American Medical Association, has agreed to lease 275,000 square feet, said a Jones Lang LaSalle spokeswoman.

This project was first proposed over a decade ago.  Maybe it’s not viable on its own, without the subsidy, in which case one wonders why it is needed if no one who will use it is willing to pay for it.  Or perhaps market conditions have improved and it’s viable now, in which case one wonders why the developer should  be given what amounts to about a dozen years worth of taxes on a thousand Chicago bungalows.

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