Council Video Shows Shakedown Begets Negotiation, Not Rejection


For over a decade we’ve been investigating, researching and writing about the incompetence, stupidity, greed, dishonesty and outright mopery of our local elected and appointed officials, as well as our well-paid bureaucrats. On occasion, we’ve even sung their praises when they actually acted like sentient, rationale, responsible People’s Representatives and done something good, or just didn’t screw up.

Unfortunately, two nights ago our City Council, during a COW meeting, put on a display of aggravated mopery with intent to gawk, if not worse, that needs to be seen to be believed.

That’s when the Council discussed giving hundreds of thousands (maybe even a million, or more) of taxpayer dollars in “incentives” to the proposed purchaser of the Mr. K’s property on Higgins and/or the proposed developer/operator of a hotel proposed for that site.

The festivities start at the 1:17:04 mark of the meeting video.

CP&D Director Jim Brown kicked off those festivities by effectively reading from his Agenda Cover Memorandum that was already posted on the City’s website. He casually mentioned his and City Mgr. Joe Gilmore’s meetings with the owner and developer, as well as a 04.24.2019 “letter from the developer” that mysteriously didn’t qualify for an attachment to his memo.

That was followed by Gilmore introducing what apparently was the theme of the night: No matter what kind of deal the City might cut with the property owner and/or developer, it would be “cash flow positive” from Day 1.

Say “Cash flow positive”…from Day 1. Say it again and again. Consider it City Hall’s new mantra, at least as to this project.

We haven’t done the math to check if Gilmore is right – primarily because neither Gilmore nor Brown have provided sufficient data from which anybody could make such calculations. In fact, Gilmore actually admitted that those rosy projected revenues to the City are hard to quantify – causing Brown to engage in what appeared to be a bit of CGA (“Cover Gilmore’s Ass”) by claiming that the prospective owner and developer offered to provide the City their pro forma, which is basically just a collection of self-serving projections and guestimates.

If those kinds of things really matter, however, why didn’t Brown already have the pro forma? He didn’t say.

Resident Joan Sandrik, along with Alds. Nick Milissis and Roger Shubert, tried to stem the rising incentive fever by reminding the Council of the Whole Foods sales tax abatement demand made by that property’s developer as an “or else” condition on Whole Foods coming to Park Ridge, and how Mayor Dave Schmidt and that 2012 council successfully called the developer’s bluff, thereby saving the City’s taxpayers over $2 million.

That prompted Brown to start explaining how the Whole Foods situation  was “different” from this hotel deal. But if you’re watching the meeting video you’ll never hear his explanation: The video’s sound drops out at the 2:12:13 mark, and the screen goes blue 7 seconds later. By the time the sound resumes at approximately 2:14:15 and the video 20 seconds after that, Brown’s explanation is long over. So we have no idea what kind of differences Brown identified.

Shades of Rose Mary Woods, lite!

Two true highlights of this meeting, however, deserve special mention.

The first is the fact that while Brown, the developer and the prospective property purchaser kept referring to this hotel as a “boutique,” none of them identified what brand, or “flag,” the hotel would bear; e.g., Hyatt, Marriott, Hillton, La Quinta, etc. And when they described the hotel as having a “pantry” instead of a restaurant, and room rates between $145 and $160 a night tops (with the City staff guestimating $115-$120), it sounded more like a Days Inn than The Talbott.

Yet NOBODY around The Horseshoe – not the mayor, not a single alderman, not a single staff member – dared to ask the developer or the owner, on the record, what name or brand their “boutique” would bear. Did they all know but weren’t saying for some unknown reason, or did they not even care?

The absolute pinnacle of absurdity, however, occurred fairly early on, when somebody (we think it was Joyce) asked the prospective owner and the prospective developer why incentives were a necessity for them to do the deal. Amazingly, the prospective owner explained that the property was worth only $2 million but he had agreed to pay the Mr. K’s owners $3.3 million!

Yes, friends, you heard that right: The City is considering bailing out, with our money, someone who is knowingly overpaying for the Mr. K’s property by a whopping $1.3 million, or 65%!!!

If even one of the elected officials around The Horseshoe had an iota of common sense, and a spine stiffer than Silly Putty, they would have responded to the prospective owner with:

“You, sir, are either an idiot or a scam artist who thinks WE are a bunch of idiots who will sell out our taxpayers to bail you out of a totally boneheaded business deal. Go away and don’t come back until all you want from us is a zoning change.”

But that’s not the way this City Administration rolls.

Instead, the prospective owner’s admission set off a round of babbling by those around The Horseshoe about how the City might go about satisfying itself that the incentives really were a “necessity.”

Mayor Dave and that 2012 council knew how to do that: Just say “No!” But apparently that’s too final and too harsh for the gentle souls currently inhabiting The Horseshoe.

So Moran proposed a “feasibility study.” Joyce said he wasn’t opposed to incentives. Melidosian gave the project a “thumbs up.” And Mazzuca could only wonder how the hotel might fit into that neighborhood in his ward 50-100 years from now.

That means we’ll likely see a string of new rosy-but-fuzzy propositions, projections and proposals designed to make sure this developer (who has never done even one project in Illinois) and this owner – along with the owners of Mr. K’s – end up getting a healthy helping of taxpayer money.

Because in what is becoming a surreal world of City government, when it comes to spending public funds in questionable ways, the question no longer appears to be “if” but only “when” and “how much.”

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