Alderman Calls For Hearings In Wake Of BGA/Crain’s Navy Pier Investigation

Third Ward Alderman Pat Dowell has called for public hearings into the diversion of $55 million in city blight fighting-funds to a Navy Pier renovation project.

Third Ward Alderman Pat Dowell has called for public hearings into the diversion of $55 million in city blight fighting-funds to a Navy Pier renovation project, saying she was “furious” and “blindsided” by the action outlined in an investigative report by the Better Government Association and Crain’s Chicago Business.

Dowell, whose ward includes McCormick Place, had led a push in the City Council for approval of funding from so-called Tax Increment Financing accounts that she believed was to be used for construction of a hotel near the convention center.

Instead, according to the BGA and Crain’s, the money was shifted to pay for Navy Pier work as part of an elaborate financial shell game orchestrated by the administration of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the public agency that runs McCormick Place and owns Navy Pier.

"I have been blindsided by this administration and the Metropolitan Pier & Exposition Authority and its outrageous actions,” Dowell said in prepared statement. “I am demanding that the City Council conduct public hearings to reveal the real story behind this misuse of our residents' tax dollars. The Administration and the MPEA must be held accountable.”

Dowell, through a spokesman, declined an interview request to elaborate on her statement. She had strongly supported the hotel project in the past.

Read The Original Report: How City Power Players Diverted $55 Million In Blight-Fighting TIF Cash To Navy Pier

Under the controversial TIF program, the city is allowed to divert a layer of property tax revenue collected in designated zones for use on projects designed to fight urban blight. Navy Pier, jutting into Lake Michigan off one of the city’s most upscale neighborhoods, is not eligible for TIF funding.

In her statement, Dowell gave the city’s precarious finances as a key reason why the spending of TIF dollars should be closely scrutinized.

"With such scarce resources in our city, it is our responsibility to distribute those resources appropriately within the statute,” the statement read. "I have acted in good faith throughout the process to use TIF money to promote economic development in the 3rd Ward.”

The statement said at the next City Council meeting she will present a resolution calling for public hearings before the council’s finance committee.

About the Author

John Chase

John Chase is the director of investigations at the Better Government Association. He was named to the post after 18 years as a general assignment, political and investigative reporter for the Chicago Tribune.