“Sweeney’s Folly” Keeps Hopes Of City Handouts Alive


Monday night a 4-2 majority of the City Council (Alds. Rich DiPietro, Don Bach, Jim Allegretti & Frank Wsol v. Alds. Robert Ryan and Joe Sweeney) voted to sustain Mayor Dave Schmidt’s veto of the Council’s earlier decision to suspend the City’s ridiculous Façade Improvement Program, which already has given away hundreds of thousands of dollars in funds that the City borrowed to incentivize private building owners to gussy-up their facades. 

Yes, that’s right: Several years ago, the City issued approx. $34 million in Uptown Redevelopment-related bonds, of which several hundred thousands of dollars in proceeds were set aside to help Uptown building owners pay for improving the appearances of their buildings, and enhance their values.  As best as we can tell, however, nobody at City Hall has been tracking that program to see how much in additional property or sales taxes those handouts have generated.  Go figure.

Which might cause one to wonder why Mayor Schmidt vetoed the suspension of such a misguided program. 

We admit it sounds crazy, but only because it actually is crazy – or, as City Attorney “Buzz” Hill opined: “It’s a bit counterintuitive.”  That craziness is the handiwork of Ald. Sweeney, who – with the help of Allegretti and Ryan – was able to turn a good resolution bad by his amendment that cut a nifty $50,000+ loophole for the will-it-ever-open O’Reilly’s Irish Pub, owned by one of Sweeney’s 1st Ward constituents. 

Call it “Sweeney’s Folly.” 

That amendment itself passed by a mere 3-2 vote, with Allegretti, Ryan and Sweeney voting for the loophole, and DiPietro and Wsol voting against.  The main suspension resolution, as amended, then passed unanimously.  

Although DiPietro already has asked that a new anti-façade improvement resolution that doesn’t contain any special-interest loopholes be placed on the agenda for the December 20 Council meeting, the mayoral veto of Sweeney’s Folly has put the façade program back in business, at least temporarily.  And as we all know, it doesn’t take long for private opportunists to belly up to the public trough. 

Which made it no surprise that at Monday night’s meeting, before the Council could even vote to sustain Schmidt’s veto, the Council was advised that two new applicants for façade improvement funds have already emerged. 

One of them is John Sasser, who purchased the building at 720 Garden shortly after his buddy, then-mayor Howard Frimark, saw his closed-session plans for the City to buy that site for a new police station “outed” by then-ald. Dave Schmidt.  We understand that Sasser got the building at a significant discount from what Frimark wanted the City to pay for it, and he has turned it into the headquarters for some of our local community groups – at least until the real estate market picks up and he can flip it for a profit. 

The other new façade subsidy applicant is Dino Vlahakis, owner of the Pickwick building.  We find his application for a City-funded façade subsidy a touch ironic, given that he was outraged several years ago at the prospect of accepting a larger amount of City funds when newly-elected aldermen Mark Anderson, Don Crampton and Rex Parker called for the City to condemn the Pickwick, acquire it by eminent domain, and operate it as a cultural arts center.  That offer of City funds may even have prompted his support for Frimark’s 2005 and 2009 mayoral bids.

If Park Ridge City government were as kinked up as, say, Chicago’s, some political heavyweight’s sister’s cousin’s nephew’s uncle (by marriage) in the appropriate city department would hurry up and “expedite” the approval of these new façade improvement applications so the applicants could get the projects under contract before the anticipated re-suspension of the program.  That way, they’d have a stronger argument for loopholes of their own in the new suspension resolution.  And if this were Chicago, that city department “expediter” would then promptly retire to Florida, the better to avoid grand jury subpoenas. 

But Park Ridge isn’t that kinked up (we hope), so we will expect that no action will be taken by City staff on the 720 Garden and Pickwick façade improvement applications between now and December 20.

But, thanks to Sweeney’s Folly, we will need to keep our fingers crossed until then.

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5 comments so far

I think you are onto something when you write about Sasser or Vlahakis looking to get a quick facade approval. I was at the meeting and Allegretti asked several questions that sounded like he was trying to make sure that new applications could be processed while the facade program was back in effect.

I agree with the mayor. Giving public funds to private businesses is just as bad as giving it to private community groups. The city should not put up artificial roadblocks to development, but if these businesses can’t afford to fund themselves or don’t want to be in Park Ridge unless they get dough from the city, then they should go elsewhere.

Maybe the staff can approve these two new facade improvements and O’Reilly’s can get moving too, and the veto will not save us the $50,000, but cost us whatever the new projects cost on top of the $50k. . . The only thing that would cap that off is if Mgr Hock then settles with the building owners, then the council overrules it, causing the city ends to up in a lawsuit. . . Let’s go for the clusterf*ck perfect storm!

EDITOR’S NOTE: That’s what the City gets for coming up with a ridiculous, unaccountable and wasteful program which then gets implemented by bone-fetching bureaucrats overseen by a City Mgr. who desperately wants a hug but isn’t sure from whom.

I hope Mr. Sasser and Mr. Vlahakis have the civic mindedness to not pursue their applications for facade money until the Council votes on Ald. DiPietro’s new facade program ban.

Great idea!! Let’s all be civic minded!! On Monday, let’s all ask our employeers to hold off on cutting our bonus checks until after Congress votes on the tax package.

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