Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot’s (D.) decision to renovate a local convention center into a makeshift coronavirus hospital cost taxpayers nearly $66 million—though only 38 patients received treatment at the facility, the Chicago Sun-Times reported on Friday.
The Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, the agency Lightfoot tasked with overseeing the project, overlooked a bid from a construction company that offered to waive fees or donate them to coronavirus pandemic relief organizations. Instead, officials gave the bid to Walsh Construction, a politically connected contractor, which billed the city $65.9 million to renovate the McCormick Place convention center.
The decision cost taxpayers more than $1.7 million per patient. In contrast, the city spent $50 million total to equip three other centers in the Chicago area.
Navy Pier CEO Marilyn Kelly Gardner—whose private company has notable connections to former mayor Richard Daley (D.)—touted Walsh Construction in an email to Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority CEO Larita Clark the day before the selection. Walsh previously received contracts from the city under Daley, whose daughter is now a board member of Navy Pier.
City officials told the Sun-Times that officials “acted rapidly” in their decision to renovate the convention center over fear that Chicago hospitals would run out of room to treat patients during the coronavirus pandemic. The convention center now stores 2,750 beds and other medical equipment, which Samir Mayekar, Lightfoot’s deputy mayor for economic development, said the city could use in an emergency.
Mayekar told the Sun-Times that he was “incredibly proud” of the project and that the money “was not spent in vain.” Lightfoot made the decision as hospitals in New York City began to fill with coronavirus patients. Dr. Nick Turkal, the former executive director of the makeshift McCormick hospital, said the city feared its hospitals could become overwhelmed with patients.
In addition to the more than $100 million the city spent on creating emergency medical facilities, a CBS 2 Chicago investigation found that the city lost more than $176 million in revenue from canceling conventions.