...often go awry. So we may be reminded as the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority prepares its bid to purchase The Friendly Confines from Tribune Company and its owner, Sam "The Grave Dancer" Zell.

Former Illinois Governor Jim Thompson, current head of the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority, appeared on WSCR radio Sunday morning and confirmed the state is about ready to lay its money on the table. Assuming the ISFA and Zell agree on a price, the state legislature and the City of Chicago (that's Mayor Daley to you and me) would then have to approve the deal.

Thompson also reiterated a point made in recent days by Chicago Cubs chairman, Crane Kenney, that the parties involved believe the people who would "benefit" from the sale of the ballpark to the State of Illinois and the ensuing rehabilitation should be the ones who bear the expense of that rehabbing.

The financial instrument that would allow this to happen, according to Thompson, is Sales Tax Increment Financing, the aptly nicknamed "STIF."

Here's how Ben Joravsky, writing in The Reader a couple of weeks ago, explained the concept:

Under the plan, the state would issue bonds to pay for rebuilding Wrigley, adding new skyboxes and club seats and constructing the parking garage and retail operation the Tribune Company had planned to build. Here’s the tricky part: sales taxes going to the city would be frozen and any increase in revenues spurred by the renovation would go to the state to repay its loans.

“The city would have to give up their share of the sales tax increment for the next 30 years,” Thompson said...

Clearly the state’s trying to bamboozle the public—it’s a variation on the spin the city puts on conventional TIFs, which freeze property tax revenues going into the pool for schools and parks and the like, sending increases to a discretionary fund controlled by the mayor. Just watch: Thompson will try to tell you that a sales tax increment doesn’t do any harm, the renovation will pay for itself.

Don’t let ’em fool you. Tax dollars spent to refurbish Wrigley are dollars that can’t be spent anywhere else. The needs of institutions like the schools and parks will have to be offset by service cuts or other tax hikes. As Zell likes to tell his employees, there’s no such thing as free lunch.

Funny--when I heard Thompson explain it on the radio Sunday morning, it all sounded like such a swell idea.

One other funny thing: Mayor Daley, who will surely bring his own agenda into any discussions of the Wrigley Field sale, is publicly questioning the viability of the whole idea.

"You talk to anybody dealing with schools, you talk to anyone dealing with the problem of gun violence in society," Daley said. "These are priorities. And I don’t think (a Wrigley sale) is one of the priorities in Springfield."

Update: Turns out everything you just read in this post about the political challenges faced by Sam Zell and Jim Thompson was an understatement. Tough going, fellows.


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