To the Editor:
Now that the University of Chicago has taken direct ownership of the Harper Court project structures (it has owned the land, through its real estate development arm, for some time), we are faced with the undeniable fact that the $23.4 million TIF subsidy for this development was for the university’s benefit.
Half of the TIF subsidy — $11.7 million — came at the expense of the Chicago Public Schools. So, millions were taken from our cash-strapped school system to subsidize a private institution with a multi-billion dollar endowment. The subsidy was given by the 53rd Street TIF.
The 53rd Street TIF was supposed to be different from the many TIFs that cover much of our city. At its founding, the 53rd Street TIF was intended to pay for: (a) local schools; (b) street improvements (such as Cleanslate); and (c) parking, in our already congested neighborhood.
All of these objectives have been abandoned. The 53rd Street TIF is now no different from the other TIFs.
The university, as part of its civic engagement, played a role in the debasement of the 53rd Street TIF. It promoted the development of the Harper Court project — on its land — without any consideration of the TIF objectives.
The university ought consider a constructive act of civic engagement — and restore public confidence in the 53rd Street TIF — by making grants to our local schools, for at least half of the TIF subsidy it received. This would help the schools meet infrastructure needs that the CPS has been neglecting due to its lack of funds. It would also help fund the hiring of the teaching personnel CPS needs to give our neighborhood children the “longer, better school day” they have been promised, but have yet to receive.