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McPier chief Lori Healey joining Clayco

Former Daley aide becomes head of firm’s new Chicago unit.

McPier CEO Lori Healey arrives at Theater on the Lake in Chicago, Ill. for Tara Flocco and Patrick Richard Daley’s, son of former Mayor Richard M. Daley, wedding on Sunday, September 22, 2019.
Lori Healey
Colin Boyle/For the Sun-Times

Lori Healey, who is leaving her post as CEO of the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, said Monday she will join the development firm Clayco as president of its new Chicago regional business unit.

Healey has led the agency that runs McCormick Place and Navy Pier, commonly called McPier, since 2015. It marked the latest in several changes at the top of key business groups since Mayor Lori Lightfoot took office this year.

Healey and Lightfoot had a public split during the legislative session in the spring when the newly inaugurated mayor shot down a McPier proposal to expand a tax on restaurant meals to fund a new convention hall.

Despite that, Healey said in an interview that she was not fired. “I have a great relationship with her,” Healey said, adding that the mayor will support continued improvements at the convention complex to keep it competitive. “As soon as the mayor expressed disagreement with the tax, we pulled it down,” Healey said.

A longtime key aide to former Mayor Richard M. Daley, Healey is joining a firm that has grown substantially in Chicago and has started a joint venture with Farpoint Development to build projects that can benefit from a federal Opportunity Zone tax benefit. One Farpoint deal in line for such a benefit is the former Michael Reese Hospital site at 29th Street and the lakefront. The property is just south of McCormick Place.

Healey said that to avoid conflict-of-interest appearances, she will not be involved in any activity involving the Reese property. A similar pledge came from David Reifman after Clayco hired him in August following his tenure as former Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s commissioner of planning and development. In his city role, Reifman helped secure Opportunity Zone eligibility for the Reese site.

A McPier spokeswoman said Healey informed Lightfoot of her decision to resign in early September and told the agency’s board last week. The board has four appointees of both the governor and the mayor and names its own chairman.

Clayco CEO Robert Clark called Healey “one of Chicago’s most accomplished business and civic leaders who has demonstrated executive leadership in both the public and private sectors.”

Clayco is involved in several local projects, including a terminal expansion at O’Hare Airport and renovations of Willis Tower and the Macy’s store on State Street.

At McPier, Healey oversaw a dramatic expansion of a campus that it markets as McCormick Square. The Marriott Marquis Chicago, the second hotel directly tied to McCormick Place, and the Wintrust Arena opened under her watch.

The agency said that in 2018, the campus hosted 272 events, a 31% increase from the prior year, and attracted 2.94 million visitors, its highest total since 2004.

Nevertheless, the collapse of the restaurant tax legislation caused some to accuse the agency of not living within its means. It wanted to enlarge the geographic part of the city where McPier could collect a 1% tax on restaurant meals. It also would have increased its bonding authority by $600 million, to $3.45 billion.

Lightfoot criticized the proposal for its impact on small businesses and for exempting sports stadiums such as the United Center and Wrigley Field.

In June, Lightfoot tapped business leader Mellody Hobson to replace Michael Sacks at the helm of World Business Chicago, and in September she picked public relations executive Glenn Eden to take the reins from Desiree Rogers at Choose Chicago, the city tourism agency.