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Bulls to move training facility from Deerfield to downtown Chicago

The Chicago Bulls Officially Open Camp Friday evening BerCenter. December 9 2011.  I  Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

The Chicago Bulls Officially Open Camp Friday evening at the Berto Center. December 9, 2011. I Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

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Updated: July 15, 2012 3:20PM



If the Bulls get an extended property tax break to move their practice facility from Deerfield to Chicago and build a $95 million entertainment complex, it will intensify pressure for the city to do something — anything — to help the Cubs.

At least, that’s the way it works in other cities.

“When I worked on the new Yankees stadium, the mayor’s office said, ‘Whatever the Yankees get, the Mets will get.’ That’s the way it’s typically done around the country,” said Chicago-based stadium financing consultant Marc Ganis.

On Wednesday, the Bulls ended weeks of speculation by announcing plans to move their practice facility from the Berto Center in Deerfield to a privately financed facility in Chicago, probably in the shadows of the United Center. Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf was delighted.

But the announcement was a reminder that Mayor Rahm Emanuel still has some unfinished business with another local sports team.

Until an ill-timed controversy over the conservative politics of Joe Ricketts, patriarch of the billionaire family that owns the Cubs, Emanuel was in the “final stages” of negotiating a $300 million deal to renovate Wrigley Field.

Emanuel was working toward a $150 million variation of the financing scheme he once called a “non-starter”— forfeiting 35 years’ worth of amusement tax growth.

The mayor was also planning to relax Wrigley’s landmark status to allow the Cubs to wring as much as $150 million in advertising and sponsorship revenues out of the stadium.

The changes range from more outfield signage behind the Wrigley bleachers, possibly including a jumbotron in right field, to street closings on Sheffield and Waveland every game day to make way for money-making street fairs that duplicate the festival atmosphere around Boston’s Fenway Park.

“Chicago is an anomaly in the notion of fairness,” Ganis continued. “It’s a tradition that goes back 50 years. It’s not who you know. It’s, ‘Are you in good standing with the political leadership or not?’ Political favoritism using taxpayer resources is a tradition in Chicago and Illinois.”

Enter Reinsdorf, who has a far better track record of persuading political leaders in Chicago and Illinois government to subsidize his Bulls and White Sox than the Cubs have ever enjoyed.

To coincide with his decision to move the Bulls practice facility from Deerfield to Chicago — and build the $95 million entertainment complex — Reinsdorf wants the city and state to extend the lucrative tax break that has saved the Bulls and Blackhawks tens of millions of dollars on property tax bills assessed against the United Center.

The tax break, first disclosed by the Chicago Sun-Times in 1995, is due to expire in 2016. It all but limits real estate taxes on the $180 million stadium to $1 million-a-year, a fraction of the amount paid by Arlington International Racecourse and the Presidential Towers apartment complex, which cost the same to build.

‘I’m not a pushover’

Under repeated questioning on Wednesday, Emanuel did not rule out an extension of the lucrative property tax break.

The mayor would only say he would “represent the taxpayers and make sure they’re not taken to the cleaners” to help a professional sports franchise.

“There will be no sweetheart deals and there has been no discussion. This was purely bringing the Bulls home in the offseason to sweet home Chicago,” the mayor said. “You are a Chicago basketball team. What are you doing practicing in Deerfield?”

Reminded that there has been a sweetheart deal, Emanuel said, “I got that.” But he said the new round of negotiations would be on “a different set of terms” to protect Chicago taxpayers.

“No business has the same terms as they had 20 years ago. . . . And when we have that discussion, that’s gonna be my attitude. . . . I’m not a pushover and I’m gonna make sure the taxpayers get a good deal,” the mayor said.

“I’m glad that the Bulls are expanding. I’m glad they’re gonna spend $95 million. I’m glad they’re gonna create jobs, and I’m glad they’re moving the Bulls back. But that doesn’t mean you get what you got before.”

In April, news broke that Reinsdorf and Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz — who is also an investor in Wrapports LLC, which owns the Chicago Sun-Times — want to create a 263,000-square-foot retail-and-entertainment center on the east side of the United Center that would add four restaurants, four bars, a team store, an event space, team offices, parking, a terrace, an atrium and a green roof, according to Metropolitan Planning Council documents.

On Wednesday, the Bulls upped the ante, announcing the team also wants to move its practice center. It could end up near the United Center.

The Bull have outgrown the 20-year-old Berto Center and are searching for ways to consolidate team offices and reduce commuting times for players. The Bulls also said a new facility could be used for other things, including events and “educational space.”

“The mayor stressed that the Bulls brand is important to the city, nationally and internationally, and that the Bulls represent the spirit and competitive grit of Chicago,” Jerry Reinsdorf said in a statement. “He thought centralizing our team assets inside the city limits would be a show of our ongoing commitment to Chicago. We have been contemplating how to address the growth limitations of our practice facility for a while, so the mayor’s timing and ours seems to make sense.”

A new CTA stop, too?

The mayor also acknowledged the possibility of creating a new CTA stop that would serve both the United Center as well as a new Malcolm X College he plans to build adjacent to the old one now east of the United Center.

“I’m proud we’re gonna have what we have over at Malcolm X. It’s not lost on me that [United Center stop] would be helpful, but we’re not there yet on the resources,” the mayor said.

Reinsdorf could not be reached for comment on whether the proposed, $95 million complex or Bulls practice facility hinges on an extended property tax break.

The Cubs play twice as many games as the Bulls in a stadium twice as big. They pay $3 million a year in property taxes and generate $59 million in annual tax revenue from a stadium that’s the third most popular tourist attracting in Illinois behind Navy Pier and the Museum Campus.

“The Cubs have been treated unfairly for decades,” Ganis said. “The night game and advertising restrictions and limitations on their ability to expand and modify their own property are restrictions imposed only on the Cubs. They do not exist for any baseball, football, basketball or hockey team anywhere.

“On the South Side, you have arguably the largest public subsidy for a baseball team in the nation — and not just for construction. It’s for upgrades, renovation and operations. They even have offsets to the amusement tax if their attendance goes down. It’s as different a political treatment as one could find.”

Eager to get out of the mayor’s doghouse, Ricketts and his representatives refused to comment on the double-standard Wednesday.



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