Mayor Rahm Emanuel announces details on improvements to McCormick Place, Navy Pier

May 16, 2013 5:15:12 PM PDT
Mayor Rahm Emanuel's new program hopes to add improvements to McCormick Place and renovate Navy Pier.

On his second anniversary as Chicago mayor, Rahm Emanuel announced details on Elevate Chicago, a new program that the city says will create 10,000 construction jobs over three years and 3,700 permanent jobs.

"This is unprecedented: the idea that we would make investments from the city and create 10,000 construction jobs," said Emanuel.

The McCormick Place and Navy Pier projects will begin simultaneously.

Backed by union leaders, the mayor made still-undocumented claims about job creation to be spurred by his proposed $165 million face-lift for Navy Pier, and at McCormick Place, two new privately-owned hotels and a $173 million "events center."

McCormick Place to add events center, hotels

At McCormick Place, there will be a 10,000-seat events center, a new 500-room boutique hotel, multiple new restaurants and entertainment venues, another hotel - previously announced ? with 1,200 rooms, and the previously announced Cermak Green Line station.

DePaul University- whose teams would play on 27 dates- will pony up $70 million to help build the arena. Taxpayer-guaranteed bonds and TIF funds will complete the financing.

It would give DePaul the opportunity to play in Chicago even though it's not anywhere near DePaul's Lincoln Park campus but near McCormick Place.

"Our goal is to build a first rate collegiate program and this gives us the ability to do that," DePaul University President Fr. Dennis Holtschneider said.

It comes at a time when schools are closing and the city faces a budget crisis, some alderman wonder if an arena is the best use of taxpayers' money.

"The use of public money to build the stadium without a substantial benefit to the citizens of Chicago doesn't not make sense," 2nd Ward Alderman Bob Fioretti said.

But Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel says it makes perfect sense because the project is tied to Navy Pier.

The mayor says DePaul's contribution for the arena is giving the city the financial freedom to redevelop Navy Pier and the arena will create thousands of jobs and allow the city to bring in medium and small size conventions, according to Emanuel.

"This is a public facility with multiple uses not just one," he said.

But critics don't buy it. University of Chicago economics lecturer Allen Sanderson says from a financial standpoint, basketball arenas used for convention business usually don't work.

Sanderson also questions what's in it for DePaul, especially since the school was offered free rent at the United Center.

"You're going to have to sell a lot of hot dogs to pay off a $70 million commitment," Sanderson said. "I don't understand what's in it for them."

"DePaul needs a basketball arena, but they couldn't afford to build one all by themselves. We couldn't afford to a build general assembly space all by ourselves, so this partnership is as much DePaul helping us as it is us helping DePaul," said Jim Reilly, Metropolitan Pier & Exposition Authority.

$48 million Navy Pier renovations

At Navy Pier, which hosted nine million visitors last year, there will be an expanded Chicago Children's museum, a completely new East End entertainment district featuring bars and restaurants, a new East End Park, improvements to Gateway Park, South Dock, the South Arcade, Pier Park and Crystal Garden, as well as new pocket parks and water features.

The city also announced the $48 million Navy Pier flyover is fully funded and will be implemented and completed as part of this project. The flyover is expected to eliminate bottlenecks and reduce the chances for bicycle and car collisions around Navy Pier.

The $278 million redevelopment of Navy Pier, construction is set to begin as soon as this fall.

"What the redesign does is really scrape it clean and add a much more contemporary bolder design," said Marilynn Gardner, president and CEO of Navy Pier Inc.

The mayor said the Navy Pier improvements- including an expanded children's museum- could not happen without the infusion of DePaul cash.

Reaction to Mayor's plans

Meanwhile a surveyed majority of Prairie District neighbors don't want the arena, which they fear will sit idle most of the time.

"An arena of 10,000-12,000 seats is being shoehorned into a parcel that it doesn't fit in," said Tina Feldstein of the Prairie District Neighborhood Alliance.

The mayor promised to involve residents, but hinted the future of McCormick Place would override neighborhood concerns.

"Because we have to continue to make McCormick Place and investment in the future. It's not going to happen on its own," Emanuel said.

"We lost a lot of money from that parking meter deal. He's trying to replace some of that money, and so he's going to make the case that this is a win-win in terms of the additional jobs, in terms of additional convention business and setting the stage possibly for a casino that would bring in huge revenues," said ABC7 political analyst Laura Washington.

The mayor's office has been tightlipped about the possibility of a casino, but it is being seriously considered in Springfield.


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