Emanuel basks in glow of Blackhawks practice facility, Rush expansion on Malcolm X site

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Thursday basked in the glow of an agreement to bring a $50 million Blackhawks practice facility and new academic buildings for Rush University Medical Center to the site of the old Malcolm X College without saying what the deal would cost Chicago taxpayers.

City Hall said the team and the hospital would pay “market rate” for the land at 1900 W. Van Buren, including 4 acres for the Hawks and 7 acres for Rush. But Emanuel refused to reveal a specific price tag.

A mayoral spokesperson insisted the final cost would “exceed market value with a mix of cash and community benefits.”

That’s a reference to the fact that the practice facility would have two rinks — not one.

That’ll be enough to accommodate the explosion of youth hockey in Chicago triggered by the Hawks’ three Stanley Cup championships in the past six years and still allow Blackhawks Charities to oversee year-round programs and clinics for underprivileged youth.

Chicago taxpayers will be asked to foot the bill for demolishing the building and preparing the site for construction. But the mayor did not put a price tag on those items either.

“There is no public support, financial support for this endeavor. They’ll be paying market rate for the facility. Our jobs as a city will be to obviously make the land available, which means taking down the old Malcolm X,” Emanuel said, touting the practice facility as a “center for sports.”


A $50 million Blackhawks practice center and new academic buildings for Rush University Medical Center will be built on the site of the old Malcolm X College. | Provided

Pressed on how much it would cost to demolish the site and do environmental cleanup, the mayor said, “We’ll get you all of that information. But know that the net result will be resources that will come back to the city. When you’re done with demolition of the facility, with them paying market rate, there’ll be additional resources for the city. . . . It’ll be a net gain for the city from a financial standpoint — not even counting what they’re gonna be doing in the sense of community work.”

Wirtz said a single rink would have been enough to meet the practice needs of the Stanley Cup champs and still accommodate “a little bit” of community involvement. But it takes two rinks to make a bigger splash.

“We went to the mayor, I don’t know, seems like several years ago. I don’t think it was quite that long. And we said we want to do something really special on the West Side. This has been our home . . . about 80 years,” Wirtz said.

“Kids can’t learn to skate if there’s not any ice. . . . The best compliment we could ever have is if someone came out of this community and [could] be in the National Hockey League.”

“This is gonna be something exciting,” he added. “We’re on a fast track. We hope to have the world Juniors here in Chicago. Hopefully, we’ll start groundbreaking very soon and have a two-year completion date.”

At one point during the sometimes contentious negotiations, Wirtz privately sought assurances from Emanuel of an amusement tax freeze.

Chicago levies a 9 percent amusement tax on movies, concerts, sporting events, live theater and entertainment venues with a seating capacity of more than 750.

The revenue package tied to the mayor’s 2015 budget counted on raising an additional $4.4 million by forcing the owners of skyboxes at Soldier Field, Wrigley Field, the United Center and U.S. Cellular Field to pay the city’s 9 percent amusement tax instead of getting a 40 percent break.

Asked Thursday if he got that assurance, Wirtz said, “We never even discussed it.”

That’s not surprising considering the city needs every dollar it can get to solve the $30 billion pension crisis that has dropped the city’s bond rating to junk status.

As for Rush University Medical Center, CEO Dr. Larry Goodman said the hospital plans to use its 7 acres to build new academic buildings and student housing. That will keep the hospital on one side of the Eisenhower Expressway and the campus for four Rush colleges on the other.

“Rush University has doubled in size in the last decade. We now have about 2,500 students. And the way we teach is just different today than it used to be. It calls for a different facility. It calls for places that have new technologies, new sizes for classrooms,” Goodman said.

The expansion will also pave the way for an even stronger partnership with Malcolm X, which is moving into a $251 million state-of-the-art facility to train students for careers in health care.

“Larry’s got a lot of responsibilities at the hospital. He doesn’t have to take on being the head of Malcolm X’s ‘College-to-Career’ program in the sense of making sure that all of the health care facilities and all the curriculum and all the training is done in alignment with where health care is going 10, 15 years from now,” the mayor said.

“He stepped up beyond Rush Presbyterian’s bottom line to the bottom line of being a community health care facility. And I can’t thank you enough for being a model corporate citizen. And Rocky, I can’t say enough about. He’s not only brought three championships to the city, but also his desire to see a facility that would serve more than just the Blackhawks. It’ll serve the entire city.”

Earlier this year, Emanuel’s refusal to extend a United Center property tax break due to expire next year nixed plans for a $95 million retail and entertainment complex in the shadows of the stadium.

Instead, the Bulls and Blackhawks decided to build a standalone office building — with a ground-level retail store and a public atrium connection to the United Center — that will free space inside the stadium for more entertainment and fan amenities.

After forcing the Cubs to bankroll a $375 million renovation of Wrigley Field with an influx of outfield signage advertising, Emanuel said he was not about to extend the property tax break granted to the United Center at a time when Bulls and Blackhawks were “pioneers” on the Near West Side.

The mayor also took a political beating for his proposal to use$55 million generated by tax increment financing to build a DePaul basketball arena near McCormick Place that will double as an “event center.” The financing was subsequently rearranged to use TIF money to acquire land for a hotel.

At the time, Emanuel said he was intensifying his push to get the Hawks to build a practice facility on the West Side to match the the $25 million center built by the Bulls without a taxpayer subsidy.

No wonder Wirtz joked about Emanuel’s hardball tactics.

“Sometimes I’m watching the Hawks game and I envision what it would be liked to be checked by one of the Blackhawks,” Wirtz said on that day.

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