CHICAGO -- Forty-six firms will vie for underwriting spots on an upcoming $937 million revenue bond issue to finance an expansion of the McCormick Place convention center in Chicago, according to the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority.

The firms submitted responses to the authority's request for qualifications for underwriting services by the 3:00 p.m., central daylight time, deadline on Friday.

John Schmidt, chairman of the authority, said the first step in the selection process will be the review of the responses by the authority's finance committee. While no time-table has been set for the selection process, he said the earliest date the committee would have its recommendations ready for the full board would be Dec. 17.

He said there was a possibility the committee may put together a short-list of firms for oral presentations, but he added that decision has not yet been made.

While the bonds cannot be issued until July 1, the effective date for levying a package of taxes to back the bonds, Mr. Schmidt said the firm for the senior manager position could be chosen by the end of the year, with the selection of co-managers to follow soon afterward.

"I would hope to complete the team as early as possible by the end of the year or in January," he said. "That still gives us five months to prepare for the offerring."

According to Mike Colsch, the authority's executive assistant for finance, the authority received responses from national and in-state and out-of-state regional firms.

Mr.Schmidt said the authority was still considering breaking the issue into two or more parts, which could mean more than one senior manager would be chose. That is because the law governing the bond issue prohibits the authority from using about 20% of debt service funds until one of the new specifically set up for financing the project is adjudicated -- a process that could run past the July 1 effective date. The tax is a 1% charge on restaurant meals in a special downtown Chicago taxing district.

One public finance source said the clout of former Illinois Gov. Jim Thompson would be felt in the selection process. While the 12-member board is made up of six appointees by Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and six by the governor, Jim Edgar, has only made two appointments to the board since he took office in January. The source specu- that frontrunners for the top underwriting spot or spots are: Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette Securities; Goldman, Sachs & Co.; and Morgan, Stanley & Co. All three firms responded to the request.

The authority issued the request for senior and co-managing underwriters on Oct. 8 for the $937 million special obligation revenue bond issue -- one of the largest ever in the Midwest. Last month, Gov. Edgar signed into law a bill that authorized the issuance of $937 million of special obligation revenue bonds that will be backed by a package of new or expanded local taxes and enhanced by a slice of state sales tax revenues if the local taxes do not cover debt service on the bonds.

In addition to the 1% restaurant meals charge, the package also contains a 6% tax on auto rentals in Cook County, a 2.5% tax on hotel rooms in Chicago, and per ride fees of 75 cents to $1 on taxi, limousine, and bus trips to a and from Chicago's airports. The authority estimates revenues from the taxes will raise $53 million in 1993, climb to $93 million by 2004 and remain at that levels through 2021, when the 30-year bonds would mature.

The one-million-square-foot expansion of McCormick Place, estimated to cost $987 million, is scheduled to be completed in 1996.

According to the request for qualifications document, underwriter applicants will be evaluated on their financial condition, quality of underwriting team and personnel, sales and distribution capabilities, experience underwriting tax-exempt bonds in Illinois and nationwide, experience underwriting capital appreciation bonds, quality of suggestions on marketing the bonds, and using derivatives to lower the cost of capital and quality of their finance plan.

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