DePaul Must Hand over Stadium Naming Rights Money to CPS Students
by Erika Wozniak and Troy LaRaviere
Introduction: The Fallacy of Rahm Emanuel’s Welfare-for-the-Rich Argument
by Troy LaRaviere
In the summer of 2013, I was invited to speak at a press conference organized by Chicago public school teacher, Erika Wozniak. The event was in response to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s announcement that he was taking $55 million in public funds generated from TIF funds and handing it over to private investors who were building a hotel and stadium. TIF funds are generated from property taxes, which are normally devoted to parks and schools.
Emanuel and his apologists often claim the stadium and hotel project will spur economic development. However, a major review of over 20 years of studies show economists “consistently found no substantial evidence of increased jobs, incomes, or tax revenues” for communities with publicly funded sports stadiums. At best, they simply moved economic activity from one area of the city to another. Furthermore, dozens of high rises and town homes have been built in the last ten years in the same area as the hotel/stadium without the need for handouts from TIF accounts.
Some believe TIFs should be abolished altogether. I am not among those critics. I do however have a serious problem with the abuse of any tax dollars, including TIF funds. TIF dollars are supposed to be used to support economic development projects in blighted communities. The central idea is to use tax dollars to encourage investment in economic development projects that would not move forward without those tax dollars. This last point is critical to understanding how tax dollars from TIFs are wasted and abused by this administration.
There is one incentive that attracts private investment above all others: profit potential. If the potential to profit from a particular project is high, no additional incentives are needed. Enter the McPier Marriot/DePaul hotel and arena project. This will be a 1,200-room luxury hotel and stadium on prime land not far from a huge convention center in the third largest city in America—that’s massive profit potential. McPier has even declared they’re already prepared to start booking business with a sleek video emphasizing the “one contact” booking experience for what they’re calling “The McCormick Collection.”
By any reasonable account, this is a sweet deal for an investor. Consequently, there is absolutely no need to waste our tax dollars on this $55 million welfare-for-the-rich handout to attract investors to a project that is already attractive. Public money from TIFs is for the purpose of encouraging investment in projects what would not get off the ground with private capital alone. You don’t use public money to take an already sweet deal and make it decadent. This TIF handout had little to do with economic development and everything to do with enhancing private profit, at taxpayer expense.
It is interesting to note that one of Rahm Emanuel’s top campaign donors (Ken Griffith’s Citadel, LLC) bought over two million shares of stock in Marriott in the months before Marriot was awarded the contract to run the hotel, which they won’t have to pay to build and won’t have to pay property taxes on; further reducing revenue for schools and parks.
When one considers this all happened as the Emanuel administration closed 49 public schools and slashed school budgets across the city, this tax-payer funded handout shifts from the realm of the reckless and irresponsible, to that of the dishonorable and depraved.
Appalled by her alma mater’s participation in this perverse public financing, Chicago Public School teacher Erika Wozniak started a petition to get DePaul University to take the proceeds from the sale of the naming rights of the stadium and give them to CPS and its students. In the heartfelt and persuasive letter below, she describes the experiences that led to her petition. Please read her story and sign her petition.
DePaul needs to hand over naming rights money to CPS students
by Erika Wozniak
When Mayor Rahm Emanuel handed $55 million that could have been devoted to schools and handed it over to private investors who were building a hotel and stadium, I was not surprised. That he did this during the same time period that he vigorously advocated for the closing of 49 public schools to “save money” did not surprise me either. The mayor was engaging in fiscal extravagance in favor of wealthy investors while imposing fiscal austerity on Chicago’s schools and denying thousands of children access to their neighborhood schools. But I’ve come to expect that from him. He and his appointees consistently invent ways to waste tax dollars on projects for the wealthy.
It was a small detail in Emanuel’s announcement that stunned me.
What shocked and appalled me was the name of the institution with which the mayor was partnering for this massive waste of public funds.
I hold DePaul to a higher moral standard than I do Rahm Emanuel. I graduated from DePaul University in 2004 and since my graduation have taught in Chicago Public Schools on the West Side at Hefferan and Morton Career Academy, and on the Northwest Side where I currently teach 5th grade at Oriole Park.
I loved my education at DePaul because of the Vincentian values that it instilled in me. As part of its Vincentian identity the university proclaims it is motivated by St. Vincent’s dedication to serving urgent human needs as a way to honor god. The university states members of the DePaul community manifest “a sensitivity to care for the needs of each other and of those served, with a special concern for the deprived members of society.” However, DePaul is now involved in a stadium and hotel project that has taken $55 million away from the very people it is dedicated to serving.
Since receiving backlash about using the $55 million for the land underneath the proposed stadium, those funds were shifted toward purchasing the land underneath the proposed hotel. However, this is one unified project, and my education at DePaul taught me that no party to such a project can escape the fact that it is fundamentally and morally wrong to use money that could have gone to schools in order to increase the profits of wealthy investors.
In response to this immoral and unethical use of public funds, I started a simple petition on MoveOn.org, figuring that I was not the only one who could not believe that $55 million public tax dollars were going to be taken away from the public schools to benefit wealthy private investors and a wealthy private university. On July 24th, 2013, I held a press conference at City Hall and delivered a petition to Mayor Emanuel with almost 3,000 signatures urging him to put these public taxes to use in our public schools; not into private universities. These tax dollars should be used in our public institutions (i.e. paving a road, or making sure I don’t have 36 students in my classroom again).
Over the summer, I took it upon myself to visit all 49 closed public schools. The photographs are available on my twitter account (@erikawoz82). I visited the schools because I felt I needed to see each and every institution that had to close its doors to enable the opening of the doors of DePaul’s stadium. It was an emotional experience; many schools were boarded up and littered, with overgrown grass and weeds taking over their playgrounds. I left some angry, and others in tears. I left all of them appalled. I have always stated that I am fine with the hotel and stadium. However if DePaul and McPier want to build them, they should use their own money, not our precious tax dollars.
That is why I chose to start yet another petition in the hopes that we can once again honor DePaul’s namesake and honor the students who attend each and every Chicago Public School. This new petition is asking DePaul to donate the proceeds of the naming rights of the future stadium back to Chicago Public Schools. It is online at http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/depaul-naming-rights?source=c.em&r_by=4614698
I am hopeful that DePaul will make the right decision and donate the naming rights proceeds to our schools and help to provide our deserving students with the precious resources they deserve. If you agree with me, please add your name to the petition and pass it along.
Wozniak, Erika (August 2, 2013). Video of Speech on TIF Handout for DePaul Stadium. Filmed at State of Illinois Building.
Lutton, Linda (July 18, 2013). Chicago principal rips CPS school budgets, Emanuel. WBEZ Radio.
Capitol Fax. (April 9, 2014). Correlation or Causation.
Matthews, David (July 28, 2014). DePaul Should Give Arena Naming Rights Money to CPS: Petition.
Coates, Dennis & Humphreys, Brad R. (August 2008). Do Economists Reach a Conslusion on Susidies for Sports Franchises, Stadiums, and Mega-Events? Economic Journal Watch, Vol. 5, No. 3., pp 294-315.
Joravsky, Ben (October 8, 2014). In Chicago Public School Classrooms, 36 is a Crowd. Chicago Reader.