For the Record: TIFs and schools

August 7, 2012

Activists led by a group called Teachers Solidarity Campaign have scheduled a Wednesday protest at the construction site in Hyde Park where a new Hyatt Place hotel is being built—and has become a symbol of anti-TIF sentiment aimed at Board of Education member Penny Pritzker.

The group echoes a commonly-heard anti-TIF refrain: that tax-increment financing districts siphon money from schools and other government agencies and are slush funds for rich developers. (In TIF districts, tax revenue for local government entities is frozen and any incremental increases in revenue are instead used for projects to spur economic development.)

Activists have been especially incensed by the 53rd Street TIF because Pritzker’s family owns Hyatt Hotels. At the end of the July board meeting, Pritzker, aware of the controversy, noted that “neither I nor Hyatt received any TIF money.”

According to the 53rd Street TIF plan, $5.2 million is going to Hyatt Place’s developer: Smart Hotels LLC and Olympia Companies, which specialize in building hotels linked to universities, in this case the University of Chicago.

The entire hotel complex, with a fitness center and restaurants, will cost $28.5 million to build.

The hotel “will be operated by The Olympia Companies as a Hyatt Place hotel under a franchise agreement with an affiliate of Hyatt. Hyatt does not own any stake in the hotel or the project,” said Farley Kern, vice president of corporate communications at Hyatt.

TIF experts explain that it is the developer who benefits from a TIF.

Still, David Orlinkoff from the Teachers Solidarity Campaign says that Pritzker, as a shareholder in Hyatt, will profit indirectly from the TIF. He notes that the TIF might not have been provided had the University of Chicago and Hyatt not had their names involved. He also says these profitable entities have the funds to build a hotel themselves and should not be subsidized.

He adds that Smart Hotels and Olympia Companies are selling bonds to finance the project and the public doesn’t have access to information on who is buying the bonds. “For all we know it could be Penny Pritzker,” Orlinkoff says.

He adds, “We are not waging a campaign against a particular TIF in Hyde Park, but instead a campaign to change the system that allows this to happen.”