Navy Pier could become public group after IL bill introduced

An Illinois state senator is joining the Better Government Association's cause to make Navy Pier a public group.

Video Transcript

- And we have a follow up this weekend on the battle over Navy Pier's record. State Senator Bill Cunningham has filed a bill that would make Navy Pier a public group, and that means information about the pier could be revealed in Freedom of Information Act request. So the Better Government Association filed a lawsuit years ago to make the pier's financial records public, and BGA president David Greisling joins us this morning to bring us up to speed on all of this. This is a battle, David, of course, that we have talked about, the BGA has been fighting for years now, I think, lawsuit seven years ago, and now there's some traction to actually get those records released from other people.

DAVID GREISLING: Yes. Senator Cunningham has seen this lawsuit play out over many years, and finally as it went to the Supreme Court, and then was sent back to the circuit court. He decided to step in and make a law that would require Navy Pier to comply with Freedom of Information Act laws. The pier is a public asset. They lease the pier from the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority for $1 a year.

When they started the McPier in 2014, the Navy Pier was given almost a quarter of a billion dollars in taxpayer money to get started. And the pier is having financial troubles. If it ever were run into serious trouble, the taxpayers would be on the hook again. So we have an absolute interest in finding out what goes on at that pier.

- Right. So this is interesting too, because not only is it the State Senator, but we're hearing a little bit of movement on the city side too. Is it going to take political pressure to actually make this happen? Of course you're doing it through the legal system. That is taking years at this point. What do you think the breaking point is going to be here?

DAVID GREISLING: Well, the frustrating thing is that we have won at every step along the way, but Navy Pier keeps kind of extending this. The McPier has spent almost a million dollars in legal fees on outside, whereas we don't know what Navy Pier has spent because their records are not public. And so the action at the legislature and at city council is very welcome, because while we keep winning at court, it's such a slow walk, whereas an ordinance from city council or a law from Springfield would change this overnight.

- Right. You mentioned how important it is for people to pay attention, then sit up, because it is a public asset at this point. And the importance of, really, for those people who are sitting at home on the couch saying, boy, this has been going on years and years and years. You're pointing out why they should care, but kind of drive it home.

DAVID GREISLING: Well, absolutely. In the past, the McPier has been a dumping ground, Navy Pier has been a dumping ground for political cronies at times. We've had Rahm Emanuel, as Mayor, filtered about $55 million of taxpayer money into the pier from a tax increment financing district that was supposed to support development in a different part of the city. So the McPier is a place that we, as residents of this city, as taxpayers, need to pay very close attention to, because of its past history of cronyism and corruption.

- All right, David. Thank you once again. You keep bringing the subject back, and it's great to keep it in the public eye, just to keep us updated on what's happening. So thank you.

DAVID GREISLING: Thank you very much.

- All right. You can read more BGA articles at bettergov.org as well. We're always posting a link on our website, abc7chicago.com. Of course, it's available on our news app too.