Jim Reilly, who helmed both the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority and RTA, has died at 77 – Boston Herald

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As head of the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority not once, but twice, Jim Reilly oversaw a redevelopment of popular Navy Pier and spearheaded efforts to build an arena and hotel near the McCormick Place convention center.

He guided the Regional Transportation Authority, which oversees CTA, Metra and Pace, through transportation budget straights and the 2008 recession.

Reilly, who worked for decades in state politics and at Chicago transportation and tourism agencies, died Monday. He was 77.

A Springfield native, Reilly graduated from the University of Chicago Law School and worked for the city of Jacksonville, Il, before he became a state representative in 1977.

He was chief of staff to former Republican Gov. Jim Thompson, and returned to the same role during Gov. Jim Edgar’s reelection campaign.

“He seemed to be a comfortable fit in making complex projects go from a behind-the-scenes role,” Thompson told the Tribune at the time.

As Edgar recovered from emergency quadruple-bypass heart surgery, Reilly was “a familiar and respected stand-in for the governor,” the Tribune reported in 1994. The Tribune described Reilly as “an administrator with a well-known contempt for inertia.”

Reilly was also during the 1990s the chief executive officer of the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, which owns McCormick Place and Navy Pier and oversees Chicago’s trade show and convention business. He led the agency through an expansion of the convention center, the opening of the nearby Hyatt Regency hotel and a redevelopment project that turned Navy Pier into a tourist attraction.

He returned to the agency known as McPier as trustee in 2010, when state legislation named him to lead a revamp of operations including moving the convention center and Navy Pier to private management. He backed controversial labor rule changes that he later said allowed the city to retain and bring new trade shows, the Tribune has reported.

He became CEO again the following year, and began efforts to build what is now Wintrust Arena and the Marriott Marquis hotel that border McCormick Place.

Between those stints, Reilly headed the city’s convention and tourism bureau. Later, he was chairman of the RTA board as the region’s transportation agencies sought to avoid financial doomsday. He helped avoid the worst-case scenario, and worked to plug a huge CTA pension shortfall, said Steve Schlickman, who was executive director of RTA at the time.

“He was a guy that was so nonpartisan in that position,” Schlickman said. “He worked so easily with both sides of the aisle, and he had great relationships with democratic leadership as well as the republican.”

Reilly led a consulting firm for a time and served on the boards of several organizations. He was most recently trustee of McPier and a life trustee of Navy Pier, Schlickman said.

Reilly had a deep appreciation for music and a commitment to the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, and rooted for the Bears, Bulls and St. Louis Cardinals, according to a family obituary. He traveled extensively.

He also had a passion for real and model trains, and enjoyed showing his train network to his nieces and nephews during holiday gatherings.

“Jim Reilly lived life large, was kind and led a life filled with incredible accomplishments,” the obituary said. “He dedicated his life to public service. Beloved by his wife and extended family, he gave his time, attention and philanthropic support to multiple charitable and artistic endeavors.”

He is survived by his wife, Veronica Lynch.

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