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Business, Politics, Clout Overlap In DePaul Arena Deal

By Chuck Sudo in News on Jul 29, 2013 4:40PM

depaul_blue_demons_logo.jpg The Tribune has an article you should bookmark that looks into the particulars of the arena being built for DePaul University near McCormick Place and the people set to cash in big on it once ground breaks on the project. Consider this yet another example of The City That Works... you hard.

Tribune reporters Kathy Bergen and Bill Ruthhart begin the story with this little nugget that should shock no one: People with ties to DePaul are connected to the project either as owners of the land the city needs to acquire to develop the arena and two hotels, as McPier board members, or as lobbyists with strong political ties to state lawmakers.

Let's start there, shall we? Former Illinois Senate President and former Cook County Assessor Thomas Hynes is DePaul's chief lobbyist in Springfield. Hynes is the father of Matt Hynes, Mayor Rahm Emanuel's point man on legislative deal-making. Thomas Hynes is also the father of former Illinois comptroller and current McPier board member Dan Hynes. One of the parcels of land earmarked for the project is owned by Lakeside Bank, which is primarily owned by the clout-heavy Cacciatore family. Cacciatore family patriarch Victor J. Cacciatore Sr. was a DePaul trustee and his family has donated over $1 million to the university.

Another developer, CenterPoint Properties Trust, has been a loyal supporter of Gov. Pat Quinn and owns another parcel of land targeted for the project. Yet a third developer, construction magnate James R. McHugh, owns another parcel and has won hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts from the city over the years.

The possible conflicts of interest are so obvious and brazen they don't resemble a straight line as much as a tumbleweed. An attorney who specializes in political ethics told the Tribune the city should hire an outside group of consultants to sell the properties. McPier CEO Jim Reilly insisted everything will be done on the up-and-up. "This isn't some clout project," Reilly said. "That isn't how we do business."

The DePaul arena project, part of a wide-ranging plan to develop and renovate McCormick Place and Navy Pier to attract more tourism and convention business, is already unpopular with critics because of the $55 million in tax increment financing that will partly finance the construction. TIFs have been a hot-button issue for years in Chicago as more residents become aware of how they've been used and, in a year that's seen Chicago Public Schools close 50 schools and force principals to choose between having an arts program or toilet paper, as well as a crumbling infrastructure, the news of the people standing to make the most money from the project won't help matters.

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