Businesses along Church Street and Dodge Avenue sport new canopies.    RoundTable photo

The Joint Review Board held its annual meeting on Dec. 13 to hear how well Evanston’s six tax-increment financing (TIF) districts performed in 2017.

The Joint Review Board is composed of representatives of all taxing districts that levy taxes on property in a TIF district. In Evanston, some of these taxing districts are the City of Evanston, School District 65, School District 202, Cook County, Ridgeville Park District, the North Shore Mosquito Abatement District, and Oakton Community College.

In a TIF, the tax increment – the difference between the taxes on the property at the time the TIF was created (the “base”) and the taxes on the increased value of the property while the TIF is in effect – is placed into at TIF fund to be used for public improvements.

Examples of these are infrastructure improvements and economic development. Sidewalks, sewers and parking garages are examples of public infrastructure where TIF money can be spent. The City used money from the Howard-Ridge TIF for the new theater building on Howard Street. Money from the Dempster-Dodge TIF helped with the recent development of Evanston Plaza.  

The typical life of a TIF district is 23 years, but it is possible to retire a TIF before then.

The six TIFs active in 2017 were the Downtown I (Washington National), Howard-Hartrey (closed at the end of 2017), Howard-Ridge, West Evanston, Dempster-Dodge and Main-Chicago. The Downtown I TIF will expire at the end of this year.

Downtown I TIF

Created: 1994; Base Equalized Assessed Valuation (EAV): $25.7 million; 2017 EAV: $85.6 million; Surplus (Deficit) at end of 2017: ($3,735,075).

The renovation of Fountain Square, completed this year, was a major activity undertaken in this TIF. Called the Washington National TIF because it was created after Washington National Insurance Company left Evanston for Lake County and lower taxes, the TIF was physically extended to include Fountain Square in 1999. At the Dec. 10 meeting, Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said the first expenditure in the TIF was $1 million to raze the Washington National building

Veterans Day services were held in the north plaza on Nov. 11, and the holiday tree-lighting festivities were held in the south plaza on Dec. 8. A streetscape along the east side of Sherman Avenue will be the last part of the project. Paul Zalmezak, Senior Economic Development Manager for the City, said the project has sparked an interest in rehabbing the Fountain Square building.

The TIF will retire in a few days and surplus funds distributed among the taxing bodies with a stake in the TIF. One of the final expenditures in the TIF was a $500,000 intergovernmental agreement with the Chicago Transit Authority in conjunction with its repairs to and modernization of the Purple Line/Red Line in Evanston, with particular focus on the Davis Street transportation center, said Johanna Leonard, Community Development Manager for the City.

Howard-Ridge TIF

Created: 2004; Base EAV: $5,978,279; 2017 EAV: $12,521,689; Surplus (Deficit): ($1.5 million)

This TIF includes property on the north side of Howard Street from Ridge Avenue east to the City limit and a small portion of Chicago Avenue north of Howard Street.

The apartment complex at 415 Howard St. was the centerpiece of the TIF for several years after the TIF was created in 2004. Under the redevelopment agreement, the City continues to reimburse the owner of the building, on a graduated basis, for its property tax bill. The amount decreases as the vacancy rate in the building decreases. This year the City reimbursed 70% of the property taxes; next year, the reimbursement will be 55%, said City Chief Financial Officer Hitesh Desai.

The City of Evanston has made a concerted effort to purchase buildings it felt were underused and create lease-to-own agreements with new businesses there.

The City made lease-to-own agreements with the owners of two restaurants, Ward 8 and the Peckish Pig. In 2016, the owners of Ward 8 purchased the property from the City. North Shore Cider Company joined the business community there recently, and Good to Go migrated across the street from Chicago. Theo Ubique, a cabaret theater, relocated to Evanston from Rogers Park
and opened this month at 721-23 Howard St. with a production of “The Full Monty.”

The City has approved a forgivable loan of nearly $2 million to Harrington Brown, LLC, to construct a 40-unit mixed-use building with an educational garden. When the project is completed, high-rise buildings will bookend the Howard-Ridge TIF district.

Mr. Zalmezak said the developer does not anticipate that families with school-age children will rent units in the Harrington Brown property. Had the opposite been the case, TIF funds would be used to reimburse the applicable school district for its share of the increment. 

Ald. Rainey said she would like to see the Howard-Ridge TIF expanded west a few blocks to become the Howard-Asbury TIF. Mr. Desai said the City expanded the West Evanston TIF and the Washington National TIF. Properties added to the TIF must be contiguous and they must qualify under the TIF statute, he said. Then the City must notify all the affected tax-payers. The process would take about four months, he said.

West Evanston TIF

Created: 2005; Base EAV: $34,477,570; 2017 EAV: $37,896,949; Surplus (Deficit): ($2,127,234)

This TIF district is roughly a parallelogram-shaped TIF that runs from Simpson Street to Greenleaf Street – excluding residential properties and Evanston Township High School – and on Church Street from Brown to Ashland avenues. It roughly parallels the berm of the old Mayfair railroad spur, still visible across from ETHS and a few other places nearby.

High-tension towers straddle much of the berm, which make it amenable to such uses as a bike or hiking trail but not to residential development. Several businesses along Church Street both east and west of Dodge Avenue serve as anchors: Church Street Barber Shop, C&W Market, Ebony Barber Shop, First Slice in the City-owned Gibbs-Morrison Cultural Center, the contractors’ cooperative, and Strange Lofts. The Youth & Opportunity United (Y.O.U.) building, 1911 Church St., built largely with private funds, sits directly across from Evanston Township High School.

Farther south, on Dempster Street, Heartwood Center is a home for many types of the healing arts, counseling and meditation. Across the street, Curt’s Café South offers breakfast and lunch to customers and training in the restaurant business – and in life – for young single mothers.

Mr. Zalmezak said there are still some vacant parcels of land in the TIF and surrounding areas, which afford opportunities for development.

Improvements to the area this year are new canopies over several businesses on the northwest side of the Church/Dodge intersection, and, across the street, a new patio and mural at Gibbs-Morrison.

Commenting on the low performance of this TIF, Robert Richlycki, president of Kane, McKenna and Associates, Inc., the City’s TIF consultant, said the 2008 economic crash “really impacted the TIF, especially because of the older buildings. These buildings had a lot less elasticity. Some buildings are coming back, but a couple dozen – I doubt they ever will.”

Dempster-Dodge TIF

Created: 2012; Base EAV: $10,816,879; 2017 EAV: $11,348,573; Surplus (Deficit): ($3, 884,180)

The shopping plaza at Dempster Street and Dodge Avenue is the sole property in this “micro” TIF district. Azzuri of Evanston, Inc., doing business as Valli Produce, owns the plaza and operates the grocery store that is the anchor tenant there. The City has given a $2 million loan, which is forgivable after 10 years if all conditions and specifications are met.

The commercial spaces on the perimeter of the plaza are for the most part leased – to Play It Again Sports, Goodwill, Dental Arts Specialists, Panino’s restaurant, Dance Center Evanston and Dollar Tree.

Dance Center Evanston’s Studio5 has attracted crowds and attention with its live music performances and screening of award-winning movies. An AutoZone store may be coming into one of the outbuildings, Mr. Zalmezak said.

 “In 2013, The City Council gave Valli $1.9 million to rehab the façade. City Council made it clear that would be the only money to Valli,” Mr. Zalmezak said.

He added, “The future of retail is uncertain. This TIF serves as a savings account.”  He also said the plaza, the former site of the Clayton Mark plant, has some environmental problems. 

 Chicago-Main TIF

Created: 2013; Base EAV: $11,489,119; 2017 EAV:  $11,545,650; Surplus (Deficit): ($4,057,338)

This elongated TIF stretches along or near Chicago Avenue from Dempster Street to Oakton Street, extending both east and west at Main Street to include most of the commercial properties there.

Economic development in this TIF is most obvious in the nine-story mixed-use building on the southeast corner of Main Street and Chicago Avenue.  One of the commercial tenants is First Bank & Trust, which relocated its Main Street branch from near Sherman Avenue into the new building.

Piccolo Theater, whose home for years had been the lower floor of the Main Street Metra depot, has relocated to nearby St. Luke’s Episcopal Church.

The area, both within and outside of the TIF, appears to be thriving.

A few years ago, the Main Street and Dempster Street merchants associations merged to form the Main-Chicago Mile. The association holds several events each year to attract shoppers, including a charity wine walk in the fall and, earlier this month, a Holiday Walk.

Sketchbook Brewery now has a presence on Chicago Avenue, having graduated from its alley storefront a little more than a year ago. Among the newer business are the Amanecer Taco Shop, 512 Main St., Fusion Academy, 847 Chicago Ave., Multilingual Connections, also at 847 Chicago Ave., and the book shop Booked, 506 Main St. 

The former site of Dard Products, 912 Custer Ave., may become upscale townhomes. Founded in 1946, the company provided promotional products such as key-chains and has now decided to sell the property. The developer of the property would also like to purchse the City-owned parking lot on Main Street just east of Sherman Avenue. The project has not come before any City committees nor been exposed to much public vetting.

Mr. Richlycki said the slow growth of this TIF is a function of having the large apartment buiding. The City should start seeing a return in the next year or two, he said. “It’s just a matter of time before we get some increment.”

Mary Gavin

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...