The Illinois Senate today sent a bill to Gov. Pat Quinn that will green-light Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan for McCormick Place expansion that includes a new DePaul University basketball arena and a hotel.
The legislation also includes provision to continue efforts to build a third Chicago airport near Peotone and incentives to construct a Downstate fertilizer plant. The Senate voted 38-17 to pass the bill, which also would allow Rosemont to use $5 million in money it currently gets to encourage convention business to pay for bonds to redo its convention center.
In voting against, Sen. Matt Murphy, R-Palatine, questioned why the Emanuel-backed legislation did not surface until the legislative session’s final hours. The House approved the bill Thursday.
“There are a number of good projects in here and some things that make some sense,” Murphy said. “But the way this all comes together at this time as sort of an insider-type of deal is what really give people a queasy feeling about this place … This doesn’t pass the smell test.”
The legislation would allow for the McCormick Place Exposition Authority, known as McPier, to receive authorization to use its bond fund, supported by hotel taxes and backstopped by state General Revenue Funds, to come up with $70 million for the arena project. McPier, which also runs Navy Pier, would receive another $55 million from a special city tax increment financing district funds and the lives of three TIFs would be extended for the arena and hotel project.
Sen. Karen McConnaughay said she would have liked to vote for some of the projects in the bill, but said the proposal was further evidence that the state’s priorities were out of whack.
“We all talk about the importance of education, but we are spending money backing up a private arena instead of education,” said McConnaughay, R-St. Charles. We’re planning a vacation when there is a hole in the roof and the rain is pouring in.”
Freshman Sen. Napolean Harris, D-Flossmoor, argued the legislation is about prioritizing jobs and emphasized the importance of finally clearing the way for a third airport in Peotone. Sponsoring Sen. Toi Hutchinson also stressed that point, both on the airport and the McCormick place improvements.
“I’ve heard it said all the time that government doesn’t create jobs. What we do is create the conditions for those jobs to happen,” said Hutchinson, D-Olympia Fields. “This is about nothing than jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs.”
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