Dinner with a TIF

or how a wonderful fundraiser gave me a lot to think about

06/12/2012 0:32 AM

By Bonnie McGrath

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I always love the Near South Planning Board Harold Washington Literary Award dinner that I attend every year on the eve of the annual book fair on Printers Row. Great food is always served--like lamb chops (as appetizers yet), short rib of beef, warm chocolate molten cake, even parsnips--at the Union League Club. It's a fun fundraiser for NSPB's outreach program, "Authors in the Schools."

A lot of my friends are always at the dinner--both old and new--and we chat and gossip and catch up. The special design on the poster unveiled at a special Union League cocktail party a few weeks before, adorns all the accouterments related to the event, and we all get a free book--among other little gifts--written by the literary awardee, who this year was local detective fiction writer Sara Paretsky. We got her book, "Breakdown." And she was glad to sign them after dinner, too.

But let me cut to the chase.

Another award was given to former Mayor Daley: the Chicago Literary Leadership Award. And local developer Gerald Fogelson, co-chair of the dinner with his wife, Georgia, gave a rousing speech about it all. He praised our old mayor for doing sooooo much for Chicago public libraries. Even Paretsky (who disdainfully mentioned Chicago "corruption" in her own speech) praised Daley for doing sooooo much for Chicago public libraries, as well.

Ok, I'm getting there.

Fogelson built the Central Station development (best known as the home of the mayor through most of his mayoralty) on old railroad land southeast of Roosevelt and Michigan 20 years ago. The area upon which the development was built back then was designated a TIF district--eligible for Tax increment Financing money. And TIF money, as Chicago Reader writer Ben Joravsky has pointed out so many times for us Chicagoans--as recently as last Thursday--is a dupe. When we city residents in the South Loop pay the city funding portion of our real estate taxes, we think the money--just as the itemized assessment falsely states--is going to city schools, city parks and city libraries. But a great deal of it is actually banked and then given to city developers for projects like Central Station.

Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding!

So here at the beautiful NSPB dinner we had an ironic illustration of how the city that works really works. How the hands get washed and the backs get scratched. Get the picture? A member of the developer community praising a mayor for gloriously helping a city institution that was actually being robbed of money during his tenure to enrich developers who were actually spending that money on their own construction projects.

As a bonus, here's a good story about Fogelson I have always wanted to tell. Several years ago, he was the featured guest at a community meeting to explain a new real estate project he was going to create in the neighborhood. Each attendee received a coffee table book he wrote about building Central Station: "Central Station, Realizing a Vision." I was busy that night and unfortunately couldn't attend the meeting. But when neighborhood pals showed me the next morning the book they got, I was hoping I could get one, too. For my collection of Chicago history books.

So I called Fogelson and politely told him how sorry I was that I missed the meeting--but that I sure hoped I could get a copy of the book he gave out; that I wouldn't expect him to send it or anything, and that I would be happy to pick it up at his convenience.

"Sure. You can get one. It's available on Amazon," he said. And then he hung up.

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By Anonymous
Posted: 06/22/2012 0:40 AM

Good article. Next time you see him, just ask Fogelson how he help funnel $3MM in TIF funds to pay for his baby, the Spertus facade construction (a religious organization none the less), while not completing or taking care of the parks they were supposed to provide. Gerry seems very generous with other people's money, but is quite cheap with his own money for the community areas they build. Did you see Gerry and his ilk try and get TIF $$ for Old St. Mary's School construction? Out this guy.