In “How high can you go?” (Nov. 16, 2017) I looked at the various proposals to lure Amazon’s proposed second national headquarters to Chicago.
The issue of economic development subsidies looms large in the debate. I've done my share of complaining about them. ((See “Such a deal” from Jan. 26, 2012, and “Pennies and nickels” from Oct. 10, 2013, at illinoistimes.com.) But public investments to stimulate private enterprise of all sorts is sound in principle, as long as they are made with the same prudence that, in theory, governs private investments. I’m not against incentives, in other words, but I am against incentives that cost more than they realize over time. So make a deal with Amazon by all means, but make it a good one, with triggers and clawbacks to protect taxpayers from another Sears deal. I despair that the deal will be good, however. Amazon has smarter people on its negotiating team and more of them than does Team Rauner.
A good deal also will protect taxpayers against the City of Chicago. Amazon will make Chicago a richer city but not a better one if the city builds the infrastructure Amazon needs and not what Chicagoans need. The city has pandered to the corporati before this, with unhappy results. A good bad example of this impulse was Richie “Call Me Baron Haussmann” Daley‘s absurdly costly Grand Central-style subway station in the Loop, from which suits with suitcases would be whisked to O’Hare in less time than it takes to falsify an expense report. And don’t forget Daley’s pursuit of the 2016 Olympics, in anticipation of which the city bought the old Michael Reese hospital grounds at a cost of $86 millions (more than $100 mill in today money), which has lain vacant ever since.None of the several projects so far laid at the feet of Jeff Bezos matches Daley's in folly, but several of them are more than merely not bad. I expect that Amazon has better planners than the city does. I know that the firms involved in some of the proposed HQ2 sites, like Sterling Bay or Related Companies, have better planners, which I why I insist on being optimistic.