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2 Investigators: Light Sculptures Cost Chicago Taxpayers Millions

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Pulitzer-prize winning reporter Pam Zekman serves on CBS 2 Chicago’s...
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CHICAGO (CBS) – Chicago is synonymous with classic architecture, and public art projects like the Picasso and the so-called “Bean” at Millennium Park.

Now there’s a newly unveiled light sculpture project in the South Loop. We asked 2 Investigator Pam Zekman to check out how much it cost. And who is paying for it?

Eighteen glass tubes of light rise high above the median strip along Congress changing colors from a soothing blue to purple to green. Then there are 343 decorative light sculptures along both sides of the stretch of new road from Wabash Avenue and mounting to the sides of a viaduct at the Board of Trade. It’s a mesmerizing sight at night.

But, in the light of day it begs a question: Just how much did all these lights cost?

The total: $3.4 million.

So what do taxpayers think of them?

Bill Mazurek said that the new lights looked “out of place.” When informed that the lights cost $3.4-million. He said he was not surprised by the city spending.

“I would not be surprised at all, I think it’s ridiculous that they would put that up there for $3-million.”

The money to pay for the light display came from TIF property tax revenues as part of a $24 million dollar roadway improvement project also funded by other federal funds.

“They needed to do something to rehab you know this side of the Loop so, that be a good addition I think,” said Chicagoan Paulette Conway said about the lights.

When informed of the cost of the decorative lights she changed her tune.

“Oh my goodness, we didn’t need it then,” she replied.

“I think there are better things the city could be doing with its money,” said Chicago resident Pat Curtain.

What else would $3.4-million pay for? How about 78 new police officers or 29 new ambulances, unemployment benefits for 183 people for a year. Or you could fill 282,333 pot holes.

Still, some say you can’t put a price on art.

When long-time Chicago citizen Marilyn Felderman was told the lighting project cost $3.4 million, she said that was OK with her.

“Public art costs money, if were going to be beautiful we’ve got to be beautiful, this is one of the greatest cities in the world and it demands public art,” said Felderman.

The city official in charge of the project couldn’t agree more.

“There’s the old saying you have to spend money to make money. We have to make strategic long term investments in the infrastructure and the beauty of the city,” said Chicago Department of Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein.

“It’s a waste, that money could go for schools and other things before that, before lights,” commented Mike Schuerg, as he gazed at the new light installation.

Or to provide more lights in Chicago neighborhoods that need them for safety reasons.

“When you’re talking about safety lighting in one neighborhood versus an economic development and reconstruction street scape in a commercial area, they’re just total different pots of money,” Klein said. “We have to do it all at the end of the day.”

“Chicago is a world class city,” Klein said, “and deserves a world class gateway into the city.”

With millions of combinations of colors that can be ordered up just by pushing a button on a laptop, the city says they’ll change the colors with the seasons, holidays and other events.

But the light show from the street scape is purely decorative.

New light poles to actually light the street cost $598,598.

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