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The public hearing on the proposed Dempster-Dodge Tax Increment Financing District (TIF), took place on May 14, and at least two aldermen expressed serious reservations with the plan. A majority appeared to be in favor, however, making the prospects for passage positive heading into the vote expected on May 29.
Paul Zalmezak from the City’s economic development department, joined by Kane McKenna consultants hired by the City, presented the TIF plan. The area covered by the proposed TIF includes the Dempster/Dodge shopping center, a stretch of Dodge Avenue adjacent to it, and virtually nothing else. It is surrounded on three sides by the existing West Evanston TIF district, having been carved out of that TIF proposal because the center’s assessed value was too high at the time, said Mr. Zalmezak.
Mr. Zalmezak stressed that because the TIF lasts 23 years the Dempster Dodge location should be viewed in both immediate and future terms. Immediately, the Center can be improved so that it attracts better tenants. Longer term, however, the site could become almost anything the City imagines. He encouraged a “conceptual” view, mentioning a convention center as a possibility.
Bob Rychlicki from Kane McKenna guided Council through the TIF evaluation process. State law requires a site to meet at least five of thirteen factors in order to qualify as a “blighted” area and qualify for TIF treatment. Kane McKenna found that the shopping center qualified because it was obsolete, occupancy is low, has lagging assessed value, suffers from poor layout, needs environmental cleanup and has inadequate utilities – one extra factor beyond the five minimum.
The TIF will have an expected budget of $20 million based upon expected property value increases over the 23 years the TIF would be in existence. The bulk of that money is expected to be spent on rehabbing existing structures, public facilities, demolition and utility upgrades.
Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, fought back against several of the factors identified. She questioned the conclusion that the shopping center had “deleterious” layout and inadequate utilities. “I am skeptical about putting a TIF on a parcel that’s already developed,” she said. She asked where the TIF tool has been used this way, enveloping one single shopping center. All the examples identified were entirely new developments or re-purposing of existing structures and not rehabbing an existing shopping center to become a better shopping center.
Mr. Zalmecek reiterated that in the short term Ald. Burrus is correct, but long- term the site could become something conceptually very different.
Alderman Donald Wilson, 4th Ward, found the Kane McKenna report lacking in a different way. He said he expected the report to identify “what the unique problems are” with the site. “I didn’t get that from the plan,” he said. “I think people don’t like to go to that shopping center because it’s an uncomfortable neighborhood… I don’t see how this is going to fix the other three corners.”
At citizen comment, local activist Jeff Smith said he was “opposed to the one-parcel, one-property-owner TIF” at Dempster and Dodge. “It fails the ‘but-for’ test… [the City] is making a 23 year commitment because of the recession.” The vacant storefronts there look just like other vacant store fronts in and around the City, he said. “Let’s not pump air into a collapsed shopping center bubble.”
Many expressed support for the plan, however. “There is nothing to lose by doing this,” said Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward. The site will either generate increased tax revenue that could be used to improve the shopping center, or it will not. “I just don’t see that we have much to lose, and we have much to gain,” she said.
Alderman Peter Braithwaite, whose second ward includes the site, agreed. The goal is to get stores in there and create jobs, he said. Then in 10 to 15 years the site could become almost anything.
Aldermen Judy Fiske, 1st ward and Delores Holmes, 5th ward, also expressed support, as did Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl. The vote that matters will be taken May 29. With four aldermen in favor and only two publicly questioning the proposal, passage is likely but not certain.