NFL draft fee waiver pushes aldermen to seek oversight on park rentals

October 31, 2016

Chicago Tribune, John Byrne 

Mayor Rahm Emanuel‘s decision to give the National Football League a nearly $1 million break on fees to hold draft festivities here has Chicago aldermen calling for more oversight on city decisions to waive costs for big outdoor festivals.

As the cash-strapped city searches for money, Ald. Scott Waguespack said it’s no longer good policy to assume it’s worth it to give organizations like the NFL sweetheart deals to lure them to the city.

The push for scrutiny comes as the 32nd Ward alderman said the Emanuel administration’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events is asking City Council members to tap into their individual “menu money” to pay for art installations in the wards. The menu money is held sacred by aldermen, who usually spend it on street repair projects and other such local work.

“We told them, the money is there, you just can’t keep giving these organizations a pass on the required fees,” Waguespack said Monday.

The Chicago Tribune has reported the city waived $937,500 in rental fees in 2015 for the multibillion-dollar football league to use Grant Park and adjoining parkland to set up an outdoor fan festival for several days tied to the draft at the nearby Auditorium Theatre. The city also waives fees for the organizers of other events held in city parks.

Waguespack and Ald. John Arena, 45th, introduced a proposal to require that all outdoor events that generate more than $100,000 in city fees and rental costs before any waivers are applied come before the council’s Finance Committee for consideration of their special use permits. The proposal would require a hearing to determine the benefit of the event to the city, and the value of the public land the event wants to use.

Waguespack said city officials are worried about holding up the permit process in the City Council, which could imperil the events. So the alderman said he and Arena are going to work with the Emanuel administration to figure out a way to give aldermen some ability to get answers to their questions about the finances. “We have to be able to push back against some of these proposals,” he said.

The proposed ordinance was held in the Finance Committee so the aldermen can continue negotiating with city officials.