Chicago Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf’s art of the deal
BY MARK BROWN firstname.lastname@example.org June 14, 2012 1:18AM
Updated: July 15, 2012 3:38PM
The owners of the United Center paid about $1.375 million in property taxes last year, according to records from the Cook County Treasurer’s office.
That’s a little less than half of what the Cubs paid in property taxes for Wrigley Field.
It’s also about $375,000 more than the Chicago Sun-Times calculated to be the maximum the United Center would ever have to pay in a given year under a special property tax break from the Legislature that the newspaper first exposed in 1995.
In the paper’s defense, I should note that the $1.375 million total includes all 88 parcels owned by United Center Joint Venture, many of them in use as parking lots, while the taxes on the three properties on which the actual structure is built come in almost exactly at $1 million, just as predicted 17 years ago.
What are you to make of that?
First, that my good friend who broke that story, former Sun-Times investigative reporter Chuck Neubauer, is a very shrewd fellow. And second, that the people who crafted the tax break are even shrewder.
That would have been Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf and then-Hawks owner Bill Wirtz, joint owners of the United Center, along probably with the guy who runs it for them, Howard Piser.
Of all Chicago’s sports team owners, Reinsdorf has always been the most politically adept at getting his way. When he wanted a taxpayer-subsidized stadium to keep his White Sox in Chicago, he got it with a bold frontal assault through the General Assembly.
When he correctly calculated there would be no similar taxpayer-financed arena for his Bulls, he teamed with Wirtz to privately build the United Center without any direct subsidy. Instead, they benefitted from a quietly negotiated — and very complicated — formula to limit future property tax increases.
When Gov. Jim Edgar wanted to build a domed stadium for the Bears, Reinsdorf and Wirtz helped lead the behind-the-scenes effort to kill off the idea out of concern the new venue would hurt their concert business.
And when the Bears finally did get a deal to rebuild Soldier Field using the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority first created for the Sox, Reinsdorf came away with a new deal to make improvements to the South Side ballpark.
Now comes word that Reinsdorf has promised Mayor Rahm Emanuel that he will move the Bulls practice facility from Deerfield to the city.
The announcement comes less than two months after it was first disclosed that Reinsdorf and current Hawks boss Rocky Wirtz — an investor in Wrapports LLC, which owns the Sun-Times — for the past few years have been quietly floating a proposal to build a $75 million to $85 million retail-entertainment complex on the east side of the United Center.
All they want in exchange is a continuation of that little property tax break, the beauty of which is that you can’t really quantify it with any certainty, no other Cook County property being exactly comparable — not even Wrigley Field.
We are being told Reinsdorf’s commitment to the mayor to build a Chicago practice facility has no connection to the development plan, although the new gym might be included as part of it, just as we are being told there is no connection to the Cubs’ hopes of obtaining a break on future amusement taxes to fix up Wrigley Field.
It’s all connected, of course, in ways that have yet to be completely revealed to us.
As long as Reinsdorf et al aren’t angling for some amusement tax break, we should probably consider ourselves fortunate and move on.