CHICAGO (CBS) — Two months after holding up tax incentives for a project to convert a historic downtown office building into a new hotel to deliver a message about including minority-owned firms in deals that receive city subsidies, aldermen approved the $20 million property tax break on Wednesday.
At an Economic Development Committee meeting in March, the developer who plans to convert the historic office building at 226 W. Jackson Blvd. into a 350-room hotel could not give aldermen an answer when asked how much minority participation was involved in the $137 million project.
That infuriated Ald. Gregory Mitchell (7th), a normally restrained alderman who called for the full City Council to hold off on approving the tax break until the developers could come up with an acceptable answer.
Mitchell and several of his colleagues were aghast that the owners and their attorneys could not provide specifics about minority involvement in the project, when that is a regular question aldermen raise for projects receiving tax breaks from the city. Mitchell said “makes no sense” for the building owners to be unprepared for their questions.
“You knew what you were doing coming in this room, and it feels like you guys are playing games with us. If you have not seen City Council, go look at the pictures, go look at the names. It is predominantly minority,” Mitchell said at the time. “Why do you think we’re going to continue to let you guys do things, give up tax credits, give up incentives, when you don’t even pay attention to what the makeup of this body looks like that has to vote on this stuff and take these votes back to our respective wards?”
At Wednesday’s virtual City Council meeting, aldermen voted to approve the tax break after Economic Development Committee chair Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th) said aldermen got the answers they wanted.
“Let this be a message to developers and contractors throughout the city of Chicago, that when coming forward with projects that require City Council approval, please keep in mind that 32 members of the City Council are either black or brown, and that we are demanding that on any project that there be a reflection of the city of Chicago,” Villegas said. “Any developer or any contractor that seeks City Council approval needs to take into account and consideration that there be some diversity and some parity when awarding some of these contracts.”
Mayor Lori Lightfoot applauded aldermen for holding the developers’ feet to the fire before approving a tax break.
“This must be a message that developers understand. It’s not that the city of Chicago isn’t open for business, it’s that business has to include people from our neighborhoods, people who are members of the small business community, and of course women and minority-owned businesses absolutely have to get a share in the economic success of our city,” she said.