CHICAGO (MCT) — It turns out that Chicago taxpayers may not be on the hook for more than $1 million for renovations at Soldier Field and U.S. Cellular Field.
The Illinois Sports Facilities Authority said Thursday that the shortfall in hotel tax revenue it used to make debt payments was $185,000 -- not the $1.1 million that a recent audit found -- and so the impact on the city will be significantly less, said a new agency board member who attended a Thursday meeting. But the audit findings still provoked Mayor Rahm Emanuel to say taxpayers shouldn't be treated like "an ATM machine."
The agency's chief financial officer said at the meeting that because of an accounting error, the shortfall is not what was reported in an independent October audit, said James Reynolds, founder and CEO of Loop Capital Markets. Reynolds was recently appointed the board by Mayor Rahm Emanuel
Reynolds said he was satisfied with the explanation that the error was related to the arrival of revenue. Other officials with the agency did not return calls for comment Thursday.
"It sounded plausible to me," Reynolds said. "I was just very happy to hear that the city's exposure is significantly less than we thought it was."
The $1.1 million shortfall was disclosed in an independent audit obtained by the Tribune through a records request. The firm, , declined comment.
Earlier in the day, Emanuel said that Chicago taxpayers should not be treated like cash machines to help cover renovations at the two sports facilities. He said he wants a healthy Chicago sports industry to add the city's quality of life, but it should not come at taxpayer expense.
"I don't want the taxpayers of the city of Chicago to be treated as if they're just an ATM machine; they're not," he said at an unrelated news conference.
The mayor recently replaced three members of the authority's board with veterans of the financial services industry and said he "gave them clear instructions" about what role he wanted them to play.
"You're not there for yourself, you're not there socially, you're there as the voice of the taxpayers of the city of Chicago," Emanuel said.
Hotel tax revenue is the main source the authority uses to pay its annual debt payments for bonds related to work on the baseball stadium and Soldier Field. The state provides an advance at the beginning of the year, which is repaid with hotel tax revenue.
This past year, however, hotel tax revenue wasn't enough, so the state turned to a fund that is Chicago's portion of state income tax. This money goes beyond the annual $5 million subsidy the city provides.
Emanuel himself, however, has gone to taxpayers asking for more money.
In his first budget that was unanimously approved last month, the mayor raised the cost of vehicle stickers , increased the parking tax , raised the hotel tax by 1 percentage point and put in place a host of fine increases. In addition, water bills would more than double during the next four years.
The project, which included some money for work at U.S. Cellular Field, began a decade ago. In undertaking the project, the authority increased its debt, but the city agreed to contribute more if hotel tax revenue fell short.
Soldier Field reopened in 2003, but cost overruns made the total for the entire project about $690 million. A Tribune analysis showed the public portion was $432 million.This past year was the first time the tax revenue was inadequate since 2001, when a new law allowed the authority to issue bonds for renovations at Soldier Field.
This has been a time of change for the board. Gov. Pat Quinn appointed four new members earlier this year, and he replaced the board chairman -- former Gov. Jim Thompson, who helped create the agency in the 1980s -- with former Illinois Senate President Emil Jones. In April, the executive director was let go and has not been replaced.
Asked to comment about the $185,000 figure, the mayor's office released a statement reiterating his earlier ATM comment and added he put three individuals with "impeccable financial credentials on the board to look at the books and ensure ISFA's decisions are in the best interests of the taxpayers."