The abandoned Wrigley gum factory at 35th Street and Ashland Avenue.

The abandoned Wrigley factory at 35th and Ashland. | Rich Hein / Sun-Times

Rich Hein / Sun-Times

Old Wrigley factory in Bridgeport reveals how Chicago works

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This is how Chicago works:

Eleven million dollars in tax breaks that push a bigger tax load onto ordinary taxpayers. Six hundred lost jobs in the city. An $8 million land purchase by ComEd that ratepayers must pay for. Property tax reductions totaling more than $525,000 that taxpayers must subsidize through higher taxes on their own properties.

All because of one chunk of land — the abandoned Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co. gum factory in the Bridgeport neighborhood. What we have here is a classic Chicago lesson in bad or questionable decisions by people making public policy and a story of clear conflicts of interest.

EDITORIAL

Follow @csteditorialsAs Tim Novak reported in Sunday’s Sun-Times, former Mayor Richard M. Daley and the City Council in 2002 gave Wrigley tax breaks — then set at $16 million — to build four buildings, including its headquarters, on Goose Island. As part of that, Daley got “assurances” Wrigley would keep the factory in Bridgeport going.

But after Mars Inc. bought Wrigley in 2005, the four buildings on Goose Island were reduced to just two. The tax break then was reduced from $16 million to $11 million, but was that worth two buildings and a closed factory?

“Assurances” are nothing. Certainly not in this town. Daley should have got it in writing.

That’s how Chicago works.

Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson. | Sun-Times files

Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson. | Sun-Times files

After Wrigley sold the factory in Bridgeport, the buyers — a group of Lombard businessmen — within months hired Daley’s nephew, attorney Patrick Daley Thompson, to successfully file to cut their property taxes on the land.

Later, Thompson handed off the job of obtaining tax breaks to his then-law partner, a distinction without a difference.

We are always troubled when a well-connected political figure like Thompson, a Daley to the core, represents anybody in getting a tax break from Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios, who also heads the Cook County Democratic Party. Does the political coziness trouble you? Every tax reduction an insider wins for a client must be balanced — dollar for dollar — by higher taxes on everyone else.

That’s how Chicago works.

Now, take a look at ComEd’s part of the deal. Wrigley sold the 31-acre factory site to the Lombard group in 2012 for just under $4.9 million. Then the businessmen sold just 13 of those 31 acres to ComEd for $8 million — a per-acre profit of nearly 300 percent. That worked out well for Thompson’s clients. But ComEd’s expenses must be borne by ratepayers through higher power bills.

Moreover, in 2015, Thompson was elected alderman of the 11th Ward, which includes the site of the shuttered and partly demolished Wrigley gum factory. That places him in a current conflict of interest, even if he no longer works for the property owners, something he won’t talk about. He has great authority over what gets built in his ward, and on the property owned by his former clients. If he’s in a mood to show them a little appreciation, he’s perfectly positioned to do.

That’s how Chicago works.

Here’s a final twist to the story. Before Thompson was elected, the previous alderman, James Balcer, took the lead to amend regulations in that area to give city officials and the local alderman — who in this case soon would be Thompson — much more control over commercial development in a planned manufacturing district that includes the former Wrigley property.

That’s a troubling sequence of events: 1) Thompson is hired to represent the property owners; 2) Thompson and a partner in his firm are quite successful in getting property tax reductions from Berrios; 3) Thompson helps the property owners sell a part of the property to ComEd for a nifty increase in price; 4) Thompson now is in a position, as alderman, to help them from the other side of the political divide.

Everything we just described was legal, folks. Move along.

But this is how Chicago works.

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