It could soon get more expensive to eat at some of Chicago’s hottest neighborhood restaurants.
In the closing days of the their legislative session, Illinois lawmakers are considering a major new construction project at McCormick Place, the city’s convention center. The MPEA, McCormick Place’s parent organization, wants to borrow $600 million to build a 300,000 square foot structure over Martin Luther King Drive.
A bill approved by the Senate on Wednesday on a vote of 44-6 would expand an existing 1% tax on restaurants in Chicago’s Loop and Near North Side. The bill would extend the boundaries from Diversey to Irving Park to the north, from Ashland to Western to the west, and from I-55 to 55th Street to the south. Senators who represent the parts of the city that this expanded tax would cover voted for it.
The proposal still needs to be approved by the Illinois House and Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker.
Lori Healey, the CEO of the MPEA, said the tax is meant to include buzzworthy restaurants in Chicago neighborhoods such as Bucktown, Wicker Park Bridgeport and Hyde Park. Healey defended the tax expansion, arguing those neighborhoods are home to restaurants that are popular destinations for convention-goers.
“These boundaries were identified … because Chicago is now the restaurant capital of the world,” Healey told senators. “What we tried to do was to increase these boundaries to the modest extent possible to really pick up all the — what I would call the cool new restaurants that all of our conference attendees want to go to.”
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot stopped short of throwing her support behind the latest proposal, while also emphasizing that she wants to keep McCormick Place competitive with other convention markets like Las Vegas and Orlando.
“We are reviewing the proposal now, but need to ensure that discussions are had with our industry partners as well as the community on how this proposal could enhance McCormick Place and drive new economic opportunity to the City of Chicago,” Lightfoot spokeswoman Lauren Huffman said in a statement.
In March, Healey had proposed a $1 fee on rideshare companies to pay for the MPEA’s proposed borrowing. But she said negotiations with Lyft and Uber went nowhere, particularly because she said that Lightfoot told her there would be opportunities in the future to charge rideshare companies higher fees.
Indeed, on Tuesday, Lightfoot put a shot across the rideshare companies’ bow when talking with reporters. She said those companies add to the city’s road congestion without paying their fair share.
“There’s been some talk among the rideshare companies in particular about agreeing to a tax as long as there’s pre-emption — meaning preventing the City of Chicago from taxing them,” Lightfoot said of the companies’ possible deal with the state. “I don’t know why they thought that that would be a good idea but I’m here to tell them we’re never gonna stand for that. We will fight against pre-emption on any issue.”
In response to Lightfoot, Campbell Matthews, a Lyft spokesperson, wrote: “Chicago passengers already pay the highest rideshare fees in the nation and attempts to add further fees would hit those in underserved communities hardest. Over a third of Lyft rides in Chicago start or end in low income areas. While we are always looking to engage with lawmakers on solutions to challenges in Illinois, but we need to preserve the affordability of rideshare.”
Tony Arnold covers Illinois politics. Follow him @tonyjarnold.