Friday, March 29, 2013

What Sequester? Feds Loan Chicago $100 Million For Urban Playground

A month into sequestration, a federal budget law mechanism which requires automatic federal spending cuts triggered by Congress and the President's inability to agree upon actual budget reductions, there continues to be ample examples of wasteful spending by the federal government. White House tours are now a thing of the past and more than a hundred air traffic control towers are being closed, but costly vacations taken by the Obama family continue unabated.

Yet another example of questionable spending is a $100 million loan the U.S. Department of Transportation is providing to Obama's hometown of Chicago for an urban playground along the Chicago River in downtown Chicago. According to the Chicago Tribune, the six-block plan includes a learning center where you can learn more about the river's ecology, a water fountain for children to splash in, kayak rentals and floating gardens along a wood-planked section. The Tribune has more on outgoing Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood's parting gift to Chicago:
A $100 million federal loan to build an urban playground along the Chicago River downtown is a "done deal," outgoing U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Thursday.
Appearing along the river with LaHood, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he expects groundbreaking for the extension of the Riverwalk to take place in 2014. The six-block project would run along the south bank from State Street to West Lake Street.
The Riverwalk extension is set to include a learning center focusing on the river's ecology, a "zero-depth fountain" for children to splash in, kayak rentals and a wood-planked section dotted with floating gardens, among other amenities. Details were announced last October.
The mayor said he hoped the new project would be done by the end of 2016.
 According to LaHood, the paperwork needs to be finished to finalize the loan, which the city must repay with interest over 35 years starting from when the work is complete. City officials said specific terms of the loan had not been finalized Thursday, so they did not know the projected total cost of the project.
City Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein said that about 70 percent of the revenue for the loan repayment will come from higher fees that two tour companies must now pay the city to dock boats on the Chicago River. Mercury Skyline Yacht Charters and Wendella Sightseeing will pay the higher fees.
Klein said the city will rely on what he described as "very tasteful and very limited" additional advertising along the riverfront, plus leasing of space to restaurants or other businesses that want to set up on the river, to retire the balance of the loan. "There's no question there will be interest for retail," Klein said.
Emanuel has pressed to continue branding the riverfront as a recreational destination for Chicagoans along the lines of the lakefront or Millennium Park. On Thursday, he characterized developing the riverfront — begun by Mayor Richard Daley — as an important moment in Chicago moving beyond its industrial past.
Can anyone explain what importance an urban playground holds for the nation's transportation needs? The federal government should have absolutely no role in funding such questionable public projects. Chicago has never had its priorities straight. Its public schools are horrendous. Mayor Emanuel only last week announced he was closing more than 60 of them due to declining enrollment and fewer public dollars to pay for education. Yet it continues to concoct grandiose public projects in its downtown area with the help of the federal government using money the federal government doesn't have to spend.

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