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The proposed new tax-increment financing (TIF) district along Chicago Avenue and Main Street was subjected to public scrutiny at the public hearing on Nov. 12 before the City Council meeting, the next required step in making the district a reality. Although City Council members remained silent during the hearing, several members of the public voiced concerns.
The Main/Chicago TIF is a “conservation” district, meaning that under the law it is in danger of becoming blighted though not currently blighted. It contains a thriving business district, both east and west of Chicago Avenue, the vacant lot on the southeast corner of Chicago Avenue and Main Street and the rail corridor north to Greenleaf Street and south to South Boulevard.
In a TIF district, the tax “increment,” or the difference between the property tax revenues on the property as improved and unimproved (the “base”) remains in the TIF for its 23-year life span, to be used only for specified purposes. Taxing bodies, including school districts and the county, receive taxes based upon base values, as assessed at the beginning of the TIF – currently about $11.5 million.
According to a report prepared by Kane-McKenna, the City’s paid TIF consultants, the district qualifies for six reasons. It is served, like the vast majority of the City, by 100 year old sewer pipes. The two sets of rail tracks make navigation difficult, resulting in “deleterious layout.” There is deterioration in the area, particularly in the alleys, parking lots, and train trestles (though CTA viaduct at Greenleaf Street was replaced just this summer). The area suffered from a lack of community planning when it was first built because community planning did not exist at the time. Also, the area has lagged behind the rest of the City in equalized assessed value three of the last five years. The other two years, it exceeded the City average.
Finally, the report states that “but for” TIF financing, the area would not be redeveloped in a coherent fashion. The district is less than a block north of the brand new, privately-funded mixed-use AMLI development at Chicago Avenue and Kedzie Street. It is two blocks north of the Southpointe Shopping Center which is being revamped and includes the new, ultra-green Walgreens – all privately funded.
According to the staff report, “A significant focus of this TIF district is the redevelopment of the vacant parcel located at the southeast corner of Main and Chicago into… its highest and best use as a mixed use retail/office building.”
Shawn Chinsky, who said his family has owned Good’s on Main Street for 110 years, said that he had studied the TIF and “had a hard time feeling comfortable with the plan.” He said he feared an effort to acquire blocks of property, remove older buildings, and put the property to its City-determined “highest and best use.” He also said the burden of increased assessed value will fall on already-strapped property owners. Finally, he spoke against “public-private” partnerships, saying that private enterprises should support themselves and public funding should not be used to bring in businesses that will then compete against existing businesses.
Allen Price, a past president of the Main Street Merchants’ Association that is within the “so-called blighted area” covered by the TIF, said he commended the City for “finally” looking at the Chicago/ Main area. “However, from my reading” of the City’s materials, he said, he felt the TIF district would not accomplish the City’s goals. “Higher taxes are more likely to put a squeeze on property owners,” he said.
The TIF will encourage someone to acquire properties, tear them down, and build a high-rise, he said. Finally, he said that taxes to pay for infrastructure improvements should be Citywide and not limited to particular districts.
John Szostek, executive director of the Piccolo Theater and the Custer Street Fair and a citizen member of the joint review board that already approved the TIF, spoke in favor of the designation. Change comes slowly, he said, more slowly than deterioration. “Without a TIF, it is a race we cannot win.” He said that the office building at Chicago and Main will be a great asset, and the TIF is the “right cure at the right time for infrastructure.”
Per State law, Council members took no action. The next step will be for the City Council to consider the TIF enabling ordinances on Nov. 26. The debate will begin in earnest at that time.