Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to revitalize the Chicago area includes the controversial use of public funds to build a new sports arena for DePaul University — a private, Catholic institution.
If Emanuel gets his way, the city will spend over $100 million developing an arena for the DePaul Blue Devils. The university will chip in $70 million. The finished arena will have multiple uses, doubling as DePaul’s basketball headquarters and a public event space.
The city’s portion of the bill would be paid through public funds generated from taxes on local businesses, and tax-increment financing. TIF is a controversial financing option that assumes a redevelopment project will increase surrounding real estate values, and uses the projected increase in property tax revenues to pay for the project.
The problem with Emanuel’s plan? Some residents don’t want a new sports arena.
“Our biggest concern is killing the neighborhood with a venue that sits vacant for most of its useful life and, the only time it is used, it’ll be largely an alcohol-focussed sporting venue that will bring unwanted rowdiness, security and parking issues,” said Tina Feldstein, president of the Prairie District Neighborhood Alliance, in a statement to The Chicago Tribune.
Taxpayers have every right to object to the city spending their money on the development of a private sports arena, said a spokesperson for The Illinois Policy Institute, a free market think tank.
“Taxpayers shouldn’t be forced to subsidize a sports arena or any other private entity that they may never step foot in,” wrote Brian Costin, director of government reform at the institute, in an email to The Daily Caller News Foundation. “Instead, these sports ventures should be self-sufficient and support their own operations without tax handouts.”
The DePaul arena would not be Chicago’s first publicly-subsidized stadium. The United Center, which is shared by the Chicago Bulls and Blackhawks, gets a special break on its property tax obligations, and the Chicago Bears’ Soldier Field was renovated in 2003 using public funds. Cellular Field — home to the Chicago White Sox — was built by taxpayers. It is owned by the government and pays no property taxes.
Costin said it wasn’t clear that the Chicago area can support another sports arena, let alone a publicly-financed one.
“If Chicago-area residents want to go to a DePaul basketball game, or any other sporting event, they can buy tickets — but we shouldn’t force all taxpayers to pay for it,” he wrote.
Administrators at DePaul University took a different view.
“This facility will bring the Blue Demons much closer to the largest segment of our fan base and will add significantly to the momentum that our basketball programs have been building in recent years,” said Rev. Dennis Holtschneider, president of the university, in a statement.
Public funding will allow DePaul to complete the project without raising tuition, said Holtschneider.
“Any way we can keep the cost down so I don’t have to put this on student tuition is a wonderful thing,” he said.
The arena project is part of a redevelopment effort that also includes construction of an interactive fountain, a museum, more hotels, and a bike path. The estimated cost to taxpayers is at least $400 million.
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