It’s an honor to have a Chicago Park District field house named after you. Especially when you didn’t make good on a pledge to pay for most of it.
That’s what happened with the Jesse White Park and Community Center on the North Side, according to an investigation by the Better Government Association published in the Sun-Times.
White, who will be sworn in Monday for a record sixth straight term as secretary of state, pledged back in 2010 to raise the bulk of the money for a field house bearing his name on land where the Cabrini-Green public housing complex was being torn down.
The field house was supposed to be partnership with the park district. White promised to raise $10 million of the initial $15 million estimated cost, via his charitable foundation. That pledge was outlined in park district documents that parks officials signed off on.
It all turned out to be castles in the air. By the time the center opened in 2014, White had come through with a measly $650,000. Taxpayers paid $11.5 million of the final $12 million price tag.
That’s what White, in a written statement, called a “gold-standard model of a public-private initiative.”
Fellow politicians were quick to bail him out almost from day one. There was the $5 million in tax-increment financing money — oops, let’s double that to $10 million — doled out by the city months after the project was announced. Stories like this are part of why we’re hearing loud calls for TIF reform.
There was the $1.5 million state grant that White’s foundation used to repay a bank loan, made for the project, that the foundation couldn’t pay on its own.
Why bother to do the hard work of fundraising? Much easier to raid the public’s pocket.
Meanwhile, White’s foundation has its headquarters in the center and pays $1 a year in rent.
Just another story about the “Chicago way?”
That’s the problem.
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