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Baffoe: Where Is The Way To Wisdom In DePaul's New Basketball Arena?

By Tim Baffoe-

(CBS) Viam sapientiae monstrabo tibi.

That's the motto of DePaul University. "I will teach you the way of wisdom," for those never subjected to Catholic school Latin courses.

Is true wisdom, though, self-serving or to be used for the benefit of others? You would think an institution of higher learning—the largest Catholic university in the country no less—would consider wisdom as a sort of "pay it forward" approach. Use gained knowledge to help others, right?

Rahm Emanuel has done a magnificent job at the impossible, bridging a massive gap between Right-leaning and Left-leaning voters in a city known nationally for contentious politics. The problem with this herculean effort is that unification is voters joining in their distaste for the Chicago mayor.

There's a laundry list of complaints that various Chicagoans have for Emanuel, but the higher ups at DePaul don't seem to have them. At least it seems so since the school is helping him when it comes to the new basketball facility that will be built along with a convention center at McCormick Place.

The project has many critics, even if it will create 10,000 construction jobs, 3,700 of them permanent, and hopefully increase tourism. "Why is the city building an arena for a basketball team that has gone 47-111 the last five years?" is one complaint. "It's still upwards of a 40-minute public transportation trip from DePaul's campus. Wasn't the Rosemont stadium distance part of the attendance problem already?" is another. (Or I guess expect college kids to drive and pay for parking?) "Wait… taxpayers will foot most of the bill for a private school?" is a question that takes the hoops element out of the equation.

As Rick Telander points out, "Say DePaul plays 18 men's games in the new arena. That only leaves 357 days of emptiness. Sure, there would be some other games held there … but this is such a guaranteed money-loser that it boggles this little scribe's rapidly balding head. Maintenance alone would bankrupt a small town. Plus, Chicago already has the United Center, which seats almost 22,000 ... The United Center is much closer to DePaul than McCormick Place is. It does about 200 events a year, has a nice hockey rink and wooden hoops floor, clean washrooms, and it already offered itself to DePaul for 10 years, rent-free."

Much of this plan seems very unwise (and ironic since these facilities will be built on land that was once supposed to be for Olympic venues that laughably never happened). My biggest issue is with none of these negatives, though. Mine is with the thousands of people who will not be shown the way to wisdom, partly due to this construction deal.

The city recently undertook another massive project, this one more a deconstruction, though. American history's largest wave of school closings fell on Chicago Public Schools at the end of this last academic year due to a lack of money, supposedly. 663 employees got laid off as a result, most of those being teachers, and several whose jobs have been saved for now will end up out in the cold in the sweltering summer due to not having a place to put them. More budget cuts to city schools in the near future are expected as well.

At the end of the day, those who suffer the most from the school closings and belt tightening are the kids. The way to wisdom for them in Chicago is to be forcibly moved to wherever the number crunchers who have never presided over a classroom desire and then crammed into overcrowded classrooms with overworked educators who lack adequate teaching materials with which to actually educate.

But, hey, you can't just make money appear, and tough decisions must be made. That is unless money is needed for noneducational purposes.

According to The New York Times, "The teachers union says that the $33 million promised by the city, which comes from a complex method called tax increment financing, might otherwise be spent on education and other city functions (the figure reaches $55 million when the next-door hotel is included)."

"We're told there's no money, and suddenly there's money for this," said Allen Sanderson, an economics professor at the University of Chicago. "It's a mixed message."

Part of that mixed message that Emanuel does not want people to pay attention to is that tax increment financing, or TIF. Not sure what that is? Well, everyone involved in a deal like this is hoping you stay ignorant to it. Ben Joravsky of The Reader helps educate us:

When the City Council—at the mayor's urging—creates a TIF district, it freezes the amount CPS takes from property taxpayers in that district for up to 24 years. If CPS was getting $100 in taxes when the TIF was created, that's all it will get for as long as the TIF exists. That forces taxpayers throughout the city to pay more in property taxes to compensate for the tax dollars CPS isn't getting from the 160 or so TIF districts the mayor and City Council have felt compelled to create … In effect, a TIF is a tax hike where the mayor raises property taxes in the name of something you presumably want—like schools or parks—so he can spend it on something you don't need. Like a basketball arena for DePaul University, to cite one recent example.

Aha. But wait, it gets better.

Over the last 30 years, we, the taxpayers, have paid roughly $5 billion in TIF taxes. Of which about 54 percent—or $2.7 billion—was taken in the name of CPS.

Of that $2.7 billion, Mayors Daley or Emanuel have spent $920 million on various school-construction projects, according to CPS (let's assume this is one of the rare instances where the mayor's people are telling the truth).

That means the schools gave the mayor $2.7 billion in property taxes and the mayor gave the schools $920 million, which means the schools lost about $1.78 billion in the process.

But at least that leftover money then gets sent to the poor that truly need it. Or, as the city has been able to include in the definition of "poor," groups like a massive beer distributor, a major airline, a standard name in hotels, and now DePaul. Really showing us the way to wisdom, eh?

Factor in, too, that "… actual revenues spurred by arena traffic almost always fall short of projections, as they have in Louisville, where the TIF district has failed to live up to its promise and left the city scrambling to make up the revenue gap. Louisville's arena bonds are now at junk status, propped up only by the city's willingness to pay them off with other sources of funding." How wise.

DePaul will supposedly profit from the gate of every Blue Demons game at the new arena as well as the naming rights it sells. With public money allowing for this private institution to make money, think people at the school will return the favor in favor of the thousands of non-private school kids being massively screwed over in no small part by a new basketball stadium? Not likely.

The hypocrisy hasn't been lost on some at DePaul, at least. Almost 2,000 people at the time of this writing have signed on online petition supported by some DePaul students, alumni, and staff who find profiting off the suffering of children and teachers to be a wee bit not in line with Christian teaching. Adjunct professor Alan Mills wrote an open letter to school president Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider in which Mills describes the arena deal in the face of CPS issues as "appalling."

Another adjunct, Alison McKenna, told The Nation "I have nothing against basketball and nothing against DePaul. But Rahm Emanuel and his upside-down priorities disgust me. In a deeply segregated city like Chicago, the gun violence that's been all over the national news is the result of systematically tearing apart communities. Gentrification is not the answer for this city. The answer is decent jobs, social services, quality affordable housing, access to health care and fully funded schools, not another round of corporate welfare."

As a lifelong Chicagoan I learned long ago how the political machine here works. Richard M. Daley was practically made of Teflon, and his successor has shown that opposition to projects like this hardly bothers him (and I'd bet he gets reelected, too). But what message is DePaul University sending in all this? Because they and the city can trot out as many PR people as they want to spin this as a positive, but for anyone actually paying attention there is no way all of this doesn't happen at the cost of education, the very thing DePaul's founders were committed to.

For the sake of a staggering basketball program and lining some already stuffed pockets, the end game is many people—kids mostly—not being shown the way to wisdom.

Jeff Pearl
The author. (credit: Jeff Pearl)

Tim Baffoe attended the University of Iowa before earning his degree from Governors State University and began blogging at The Score after winning the 2011 Pepsi Max Score Search. He enjoys writing things about stuff, but not so much stuff about things. When not writing for, Tim corrupts America's youth as a high school English teacher and provides a great service to his South Side community delivering pizzas (please tip him and his colleagues well). You can follow Tim's inappropriate brain droppings on Twitter @TimBaffoe , but please don't follow him in real life. He grew up in Chicago's Beverly To read more of Tim's blogs click here.

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