The City of Chicago and the state of Illinois may be financially broke and facing bankruptcy, but that's not stopping Mayor Rahm Emanuel from offering up a more than $1 billion borrowing scheme for the City's financially-strapped convention authority to make possible a lake-front vanity project requested by a billionaire Hollywood filmmaker. His plan actually requires demolishing about half of the McCormick Place convention space along the lakefront to make way for a museum named in honor of George Lucas because that's what the billionaire is demanding if the City wants him to donate a few hundred million dollars for the museum bearing his name.
The Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority has already maxed out its current credit card through its costly plans to develop a new arena and hotel adjacent to the McCormick Place convention center. In exchange for over $1.1 billion in borrowing authority, McPier would demolish McCormick Place East, which includes the Arie Crown theater, donate freed up lakefront land for Lucas' $665 million museum and then spend a half billion dollars building new convention space over Martin Luther King Drive to replace the demolished convention space along the lakefront that Lucas demanded as part of his agreement to donate $743 million for construction of the museum. Emanuel says Lucas' donation will cover bond payments the first 15 years. Permanently extending five previously increased taxes on things like hotels and state subsidy payments to the convention authority will cover the remaining costs.
The 45-year old McCormick Place East building is described by city officials as an "old building" that has become an "architectural issue" sitting on the lakefront. City officials say they would have to spend $100 million on a new roof if the building remains and a total of $225 million in repairs over the next 15 years. Of course, those estimated costs far exceed the original construction costs of the building. “This is a win, win, win," Mayor Emanuel told the Sun-Times. "You get about 12 acres of open land you never had before. You have the largest convention floor space continuous in the world, which will allow Chicago to compete and win against Orlando and Las Vegas. And you’d have a cultural enrichment that continues to attract people to the city from around the globe," he said.
Hold on to your wallets, Indianapolis. The Capital Improvement Board will soon unveil its own plans for expanding the convention center to remain a viable player in competing for convention business.
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