Plan gives Rush $75 mil in TIF money

The city's Community Development Commission approved $75 million in public financing to fund the expansion of Rush University Medical Center this evening.

The commission okayed extending the borders of Central West TIF district on the near west side to include the Rush Medical Center complex. The TIF money provides the last piece in the financial puzzle that the center needs to complete its $901 million expansion.

The project includes a new inpatient care tower, an expanded emergency room  and a power plant, as well as renovation of other buildings.

While many at the meeting spoke in favor of Rush, others criticized the plan for diverting public money to a private institution.

"I'm worried about the precedent this sets. I'm concerned about other institutions, like the University of Chicago at Illinois tapping into this TIF, without having to pay into it," said June Kirchgatter, a business owner and member of the West Loop Community Organization.

Dr. Larry Goodman, Rush president and CEO, said the plan is key to the hospital's future.

"It is critical that Rush invest in its facilities now in order to be able to fulfill our mission of patient care, education, research and community service into the future," he said.

Goodman said the center has served as an economic anchor in the neighborhood over the years. The center employs 8,200 people, making it the largest private employer on the west side. Roughly 55 percent of those employees live in Chicago.

He estimated Rush provides over $100 million in uncompensated care and said it had been recognized for the third year in a row for its performance in "equity of care."

Goodman said Rush had was seeking TIF funding because it had exhausted all other sources of money. The TIF represents 8.3 percent of the total costs of the project.

Among proponents of the plan were residents of nearby housing projects, the president of nearby Malcolm X College, and scores of employees and neighbors who recounted visits to the medical center.

Ken Butler is director of the Fatherhood Initiative Program, which works with fathers on parenting issues, in the West Haven neighborhood.

"Rush is one of the few organizations in the community that is willing to give these fathers opportunities," said Butler.

Michael Ivers, a resident of the Second Ward and president of Good City, an organization that provides shelters for victims of domestic violence, also spoke in favor of the project.

"The emergency room is badly in need of being updated," he said. "And it will provide jobs that positively affect the community."

Ald. Bob Fioretti [D-2nd Ward] praised the project and said it merited TIF funds.

But Jewel Holly Ware, president of Homeowners of West Town, was one of several area residents who voiced concern about the lack of progress on other projects.

"I'm not here to be anti-Rush. I'm here to be proactive for the areas north of the Eisenhower Expressway," said Ware. "With this TIF you're spending more than you've spent on expressway north in the last seven to eight years."

Other residents complained that TIF-funded projects such as Skinner School and Skinner Park were making slow progress.

Both Fioretti and Ald. Walter Burnett [D-27th], whose wards are affected by the TIF, endorsed the proposal.

"We cannot amend TIF boundaries lightly," said Fioretti. He said the medical center's original request was pared down through aggressive discussions with Rush.

"The public benefits of this are overwhelming," he said.

He also said the TIF would have no negative effects on other TIF-funded projects in the area.

"The $34 million allocated for this TIF for the Skinner School has been completed," he said. "The park is provided for fully."

Mary Bonome, assistant commissioner in the Department of Planning and Development, said the Central West TIF had generated funds beyond what was originally expected.

"We have more than enough to encompass both schools, parks and the Rush expansion," she said.

The City Council must also approve directing TIF funds to Rush.