Rahm to seize one of Chicago’s largest buildings for private gainBy Austin Berg, Monday at 2:45 pm
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has his eyes set on the Old Main Post Office, and there’s a good chance he won’t be denied.
Emanuel’s administration announced Feb. 20 its plans to seize the historic riverfront property and solicit bids for redevelopment, according to DNAinfo.
While the U.S. Postal Service sold the building to investor Bill Davies in 2009, the 2.7 million-square-foot property has been left vacant since the mid-1990s. Since then, many ambitious plans for the building have come and gone. Most recently, Crain’s Chicago Business reported Davies was planning to finance redevelopment of office, residential and retail space in the massive building, which serves as the western gateway to the Loop.
The Fifth Amendment allows governments to seize private property for "public use" through a process called eminent domain. But Chicago city officials clearly have no interest in building a necessary road or government building. Instead, city government will be serving as a middle man – taking the property from Davies and transferring it to a developer it deems more suitable.
That developer would then essentially pay City Hall for its muscle in the deal, as city officials clarified that the chosen developer would be on the hook for any costs related to the seizure of the property.
“Today’s action will accelerate the process of transforming the old Main Post Office, which has sat empty for more than two decades, into an economic driver for the neighborhood and the entire city,” Emanuel said in a statement.
“Development of this key gateway to the city can create thousands of jobs while rebuilding one of Chicago’s iconic structures.”
While arguably legal, “accelerating” development of property by forcibly swapping ownership is a dubious use of eminent domain, and should have Chicagoans worried about the lengths to which the city will go in order to impose its will on property owners. Furthermore, moving a deal this large through city government in America’s corruption capital means political insiders will surely be taking their cut.
Emanuel’s move echoes a worrying trend across the city.
In January, Northeastern Illinois University, or NEIU, effectively snatched an entire block from North Park property owners via eminent domain. After bulldozing small businesses such as the Bryn Mawr Breakfast Club and Hunan Wok, NEIU will pay a private developer to build and operate dorms and ground-floor retail.
And since at least 2008, Englewood residents have been fighting attempts to use eminent domain to purchase and destroy housing to facilitate the expansion of a privately owned shipping yard.
It remains to be seen whether Davies has pockets deep enough to fight City Hall, but for most Chicagoans who find themselves in the crosshairs of eminent domain, their property is as good as gone.