Richard M. Daley was mayor when Chicago first agreed to turn over Grant Park for a summer weekend every year to three guys who all are named Charlie.
Within a year of Daley’s last day in the mayor’s office, the three Charlies would no longer enjoy the break they had been getting from paying local amusement taxes for their Lollapalooza music festival.
Yet the relationship between their company, C3 Presents LLC, and the Daley family has endured and grown.
The Austin, Texas-based C3 is paying for TUR Partners – the company Daley formed with his son, Patrick, after he became a private citizen – to come up with a plan for how Austin might make better use of a cherished downtown park.
The lucrative Lone Star State deal comes as the Daley name seems to be increasingly tarnished at home, with Daley’s successor and others struggling to disentangle the financial mess he left behind.
Among the tricky knots that have been untied since Daley’s retirement was the deal that had exempted C3 from amusement taxes. For Lollapalooza’s first seven years, C3 didn’t have to pay the 5 percent city tax or the 1.5 percent Cook County tax, even as promoters of other music festivals paid those taxes.
The deal with Daley saved the three Charlies – and cost taxpayers – more than $1 million in 2011 alone.
C3 got what turned out to be their last city waiver from the amusement tax shortly before Daley’s last term ended in 2011, and they have had to pay the city and the county taxes since then.
Coincidentally or not, the three Charlies were wise enough to avail themselves of the lobbying and legal services of Daley’s nephew Mark Vanecko while his uncle was mayor.
Despite losing their tax break almost as soon as a new mayor came into office, the three Charlies didn’t forget the extended Daley clan.
Less than a month after Daley left office in 2011, one of the Charlies – Charles A. Jones – and his wife gave power of attorney to Vanecko to close on a condo they bought at the south end of Grant Park. Vanecko remains C3’s registered agent in Illinois, according to state records.
Now, in Austin,the three Charlies have shown that they continue to highly value the sage advice of Chicago’s retired “green mayor” and the City Hall aides who came with him to his private venture.
Entirely at C3’s expense, Daley’s TUR firm has worked with the Austin Parks Foundation to devise a plan for the 74-acre Town Lake Metropolitan Park, on the shores of Lady Bird Lake.
TUR’s final study will be presented to Austin’s City Council next month, but TUR already has told Austin leaders that they could build underground parking and pedestrian bridges over roads, for a total cost estimated at more than $100 million.
The plan is drawing criticism that it favors money-making ventures over green space. C3 promotes festivals in Austin, too, including an event in the park that’s the subject of the Daley company’s study.
In an editorial last month, the Austin American-Statesman newspaper questioned whether commercial interests – and perhaps the interests of C3 – ultimately will trump the public’s desires.
On its website, Daley’s company saysits team works with “businesses, municipalities and government agencies throughout North America to develop strategies for competing and thriving in the global economy.”
“Where parkland fits in amid the firm’s buzzword phrases about ‘sustainable solutions’ and ‘global urban markets’ is a mystery,” the American-Statesman wrote.
As his company’s executive chairman, Daley met with a delegation of Austin leaders who toured Chicago’s downtown parks last year. Daley also went to Texas to participate in a panel with other mayors and former mayors, says Colin Wallis, executive director of the Austin Parks Foundation.
“He was just sort of visioning,” Wallis says. “High-level stuff.”
Most of the firm’s work in Austin, Wallis says, is being performed by other TUR executives. They include the company’s CEO Lori Healey, who was a chief of staff in the Daley administration.
Healey says TUR’s final plan for Austin will increase green space and suggests noincrease in the number of money-making events allowed there.
In a statement from a spokesman in Chicago, C3 said it played no role in the Austin Parks Foundation’shiring of TUR.
But public records show C3 was contracted to give the city’s parks foundation $1.5 million specificallyto cover all payments to TUR and a project manager. Wallis declined to say how much exactly has been paid to Daley’s company.
“I’m not at liberty to speak about details of our contract with TUR Partners,” Wallis says.
Healey also declined to say because “it’s private information.”
The precise amountdoesn’t matter. The Texas two-step between the three Charlies and the Daleys seems to move to exactly the same rhythm as the mutual back-scratching common in so many public deals up here.