Mayor Rahm Emanuel vowed Thursday to duplicate for the 2017 NHL draft in Chicago the interactive outdoor festival he created for the NFL draft, but insisted it would not cost beleaguered taxpayers a dime.
Emanuel played hide the puck when asked about the incentive package that lured the NHL draft to the United Center.
He talked about raising money privately to defray security, traffic control and other costs associated with the marquee event that will raise Chicago’s profile around the world — in a good way, for a change instead of for a rising murder rate and police shootings.
But the mayor refused to say precisely how much money he had agreed to raise, fees that would be waived or streets that would be closed to accommodate an NHL version of the “draft town” that the NFL created for fans in Grant Park.
Mayoral spokesman Grant Klinzman said the private donations would be raised through the convention and tourism agency known as Choose Chicago.
“We are in the early planning stages, but we don’t expect significant traffic disruptions,” he said.
Emanuel raised a record $24 million to bankroll his 2015 re-election campaign. He has already started putting his legendary fundraising skills to work to make certain that taxpayers already hit with a $588 million property tax increase for police and fire pensions don’t get hit again.
“We’re going to raise the resources to defer the costs that may come in from a security standpoint, etcetera, that you have to do. I wouldn’t want the franchise to do it. We’ll do it. But it’ll be private. And based on the preliminary phone calls as somebody who’s a veteran in this effort, I believe with all confidence we’re going to do that,” he said.
Free rent in Grant Park for the 2015 NFL draft in Chicago cost the Chicago Park District nearly $1 million last spring with the tab likely to rise even higher this year as the NFL seeks an expanded footprint in Grant Park.
On Thursday, Emanuel vowed to duplicate that fan fest for the NHL.
“Of course, it’s going to be that exciting. We’re going to work this . . . with the NHL and the Blackhawks, as we did the NFL [draft]. The place it will be held is here. But, given the space — not just inside the building, all of the space that exists around [it], we will work cooperatively . . . to make it an event that everybody can participate in,” he said.
Emanuel joked that he used the persistence of a mother-in-law to win the marquee event for Chicago — just as he badgered NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to take the NFL draft outside New York City for the first time in 51 years and return to Chicago for a second year.
“Just like the NFL, it will be viewed around the world and that’s advertising you can’t pay for. From Canada to the Czech Republic, from Finland to France, from Switzerland all over the world to Sweden, people will be seeing the city of Chicago,” he said.
“From advertising kind of soft dollars to hard dollars — people from around the world coming to Chicago — it’ll be a huge economic and job gain at no taxpayers’ financial support. We’re going to do it privately. I already was on the phone today. I have all the confidence we will raise the resources to support this.”
After nearly three months under siege for his handling of the Laquan McDonald shooting video, Emanuel was clearly basking in the glow of Thursday’s victory. It was the political equivalent of a hat trick.
The mayor disclosed that the germ for the NHL draft was planted when he and his wife traveled to Tampa last summer to watch their daughter compete in a national rowing competition. Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz invited the Emanuels to watch the Hawks play Tampa from a skybox. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman was there.
“Let’s just say Rocky finally said, ‘Uncle’ and then, he went to work. I was persistent in the sense that I thought this was important for Chicago. . . . When you think of the centennial, it only comes around once every hundred years. Chicago was part of the Original Six. And I thought, what a way to celebrate Chicago town as Hockey Town U.S.A. I thought this would be a great way for not only our fan base, but the fan base around the world that loves hockey to come and see Chicago shine in a sport that they love,” Emanuel said.
“I didn’t have to be persistent. They wanted to make this happen, too, because they knew how important this was for the city, how important it was for their fan base.”