What I Don’t Understand About Chicago Today

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

There’s doom and there’s gloom.

And, lately, both have been applied literally and figuratively to the fortunes of my home town of Chicago. Want proof?

Yesterday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced a proposed whopping $500 million-plus property tax hike and other taxes to fund pensions and keep the city from falling into the proverbial financial abyss.

(One might say Chicago is facing a “public relations crisis,” but I think that phrase better fits Volkswagen given its troubles.)

Would you pay $315 million for this building? Someone plans to.

Would you pay $315 million for this building? Someone plans to.

As a homeowner in Chicago, my bi-annual payment to the Cook County Treasurer will escalate significantly should the tax plan get City Council approval. The same, of course, will happen to every other property owner.

But the tax increase, which was reported in the news several days ago, should have prompted a mass exodus of investment from Chicago; so far,  the prospect of higher taxes apparently hasn’t swayed interest in a long-term investment like Chicago real estate.

Consider these two news items from today:

  • In the heart of downtown, there’s big news on the commercial office front; as reported in Crain’s Chicago Business, two separate properties each are being purchased by out-of-town buyers for around the same price — $315 million. (An aside: I worked in one of these buildings, and yes it was a nice property. But $315 million?)
  • Close to home, a developer has received approval to break ground this fall on the so-called “Twin Towers” apartment project of more than 200 units in the increasingly hip Logan Square neighborhood.  (An aside: This is among a half-dozen or so similar hipster-focused apartment developments slated for the area, all a mile or so from our humble Avondale home.)
The guy on the right is committed to Chicago. So things can't be that bad.

The guy on the right is committed to Chicago. So things can’t be that bad.

Yes, these are just two examples; if you’ve followed the Chicago real estate market (like I do), you’re cognizant of the fact that there’s tremendous investor and developer interest in Chicago for multifamily, office, industrial, retail and hotel properties.

What’s more, Chicago is slated to be the site for some rather noteworthy cultural properties: The Obama Presidential Library and Museum and Lucas Museum of Narrative Art.

So, that’s what I don’t understand: If Chicago is in dire financial straits, why is there continued activity in purchasing parcels?

Rest assured, this Chicago guy is staying put.  At least for a while.

Want evidence of my commitment to my home town? We’re getting a new roof on the garage.


Advice for the Next Mayor of Chicago: Three Ways to Raise Needed Revenues

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

In a little over a month, Chicagoans will return to the polls to elect our Mayor, along with some aldermen. As you may have learned, the general election here on February 24 did not yield a Mayor.

Incumbent Rahm Emanuel was forced into a run-off race with Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, a Cook County Commissioner who — along with three other candidates — captured enough votes to prevent Mr. Emanuel from getting the 50 percent-plus-one vote majority need to win re-election.

First, best of success to both candidates.

Second, below are suggestions to whoever wins the election April 7 on tackling one of Chicago’s nagging issues: Raising needed revenues without raising taxes, cutting vital city services or enacting other draconian measures.

So, without further ado, three ways to build Chicago’s bottom line.

  1.  Expand the Number of Tiki Bars. For some reason, those of the hipster set have taken to faux Polynesian nightclubs that serve $13 drinks adorned with umbrellas, flowers and large chunks of pineapple. In Lost Lakeour humble Avondale neighborhood, the just-opened Lost Lake tiki bar has patrons lined up out the door, even on cold evenings. As noted from a Yelp reviewer:  “The room is tastefully decorated and comfortable; makes you feel as though you have been whisked away from the cruel Chicago winter to a Caribbean island.” Yes, a Caribbean Island that from the outside looks a lot like Diversey Avenue. But just think of the revenues Chicago would gain from liquor license fees and sales tax revenues if there was a tiki bar on every other block!
  2. Make it a “Long, Strange Trip” Every Weekend. This dead50Independence Day holiday Chicago will be invaded by hoards of the living Dead. You know who I’m referring to — Deadheads, or fans of the almost defunct band the Grateful Dead. Yes, the ultimate jam band will play three shows here as part of its final “Fare Thee Well” tour and mark its 50th anniversary of playing songs that last 47 minutes on average.  Tickets are expensive and very hard to come by, as noted in this commentary. Same goes for hotel rooms, and I trust sales of tye dyed T-shirts will be brisk, too. The result: Millions of dollars spent in Chicago. So why not have the Dead play Chicago every weekend in 2015! Even if the real Dead members won’t perform, just hire some look-alikes. Deadheads reportedly are usually in some alter state of consciousness and probably won’t know the difference.
  3. If You Smoke ‘Em, Pick ‘Em Up. As depicted in the Ciggiesaccompanying photo, some people in Chicago fail to properly dispose of cigarette butts after they’ve enjoyed a smoke. This causes not just unsightly litter, it detracts from the street scape and requires clean up. Here’s a potential solution to combat butt scofflaws and raise some cash: Institute a new law fining property owners for spent butts found on their property. Perhaps $100 per butt? As you can see from the photo above, there’s about $4,000 in untapped potential revenue from this one location.

So, there Mr. Next Mayor. My thoughts on ways to get Chicago out of hock.

And, if you’re wondering who I’ll vote for, here’s my answer: The right candidate.


Dear Chicago Tribune: Since You Won’t Publish My Letter, I Will

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

Perhaps it’s time The PRDude blog was branded with a tagline. What do you think of this one:  “Staunch Defender of the Public Relations Profession.”

Regular follows may recall that I’ve addressed situations where the PR profession was bashed, slandered and subjected to libelous prose.  To defend public relations, I used this digital pulpit to challenge the wrong-doers and set the record straight.

In late May it happened again.

The Chicago Tribune, a newspaper I read daily and still support with a home delivery subscription, published a piece in the Sports section that grabbed my attention for two reasons:

1. It concerned the Chicago Cubs and management’s clumsy efforts to get city approval to revitalize venerable Wrigley Field.

2. It connected what I maintain was a management decision to poor public relations counsel.

So I dashed off a Letter to the Editors on May 30.

They haven’t published it, so I will:

Dear Editors:

tribuneAs a public relations professional, I take great offense in the subheadline, “Emanuel embarrasses franchise’s inept PR team,” which accompanied the May 30 column by David Haugh on the efforts by the Chicago Cubs to get approval for modernizing Wrigley Field.

Public relations counsel, whether in-house or contracted, are charged with developing and executing communications programs built upon research driven by sound strategies and measurable results. These actions must be — or certainly should be — approved by management.

Did the headline writer and Mr. Haugh know for a fact that it was the “Cubs’ corporate PR team” that made the decision to charge ahead with plans for a new bullpen and other improvements before conferring with the Mayor’s office? Or, is it possible that the management of the Cubs insisted on unveiling the news?

Admittedly, the Cubs are in need of serious damage control given the circumstances surrounding their plans and efforts to bring their landmark ballpark into the modern age. But it’s troubling that the team’s public relations staff gets lambasted for decisions that may have been beyond their purview.


Edward M. Bury

It’s this type of inaccuracy about the profession that all of us who are serious PR practitioners need to address quickly and forcefully.  For the record, I would include a link to Mr. Hough’s complete column, but I can’t find it online.

Rest assured, I’ll keep an eye out for future written or verbal barbs slung at public relations and address them whenever I can.  If you’re serious about public relations, serious about its value in modern society, serious about accuracy, perhaps you will too.

* * *

So, now you’re asking: “Back it up, PRDude. Demonstrate how you’ve defended public relations.”  Here are two examples.

1. In a January 2013 post, I fired a shot across the bow of a well-known essayist who mixed up public relations and social media.

2. Back in 2010, I questioned a writer — yes from the Chicago Tribune — who mixed in public relations counsel with the legal counsel defending a man who once was governor of Illinois.