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Approval of a study of the possibility of expanding the West Evanston tax-increment financing (TIF) district could come before City Council members early next year.
The lengthy West Evanston TIF includes non-residential properties along Dodge Avenue and some along the cross streets between Emerson and Greenleaf Streets. With the proposed expansion, it could reach as far north as Simpson Street and as far east as Ridge Avenue.
In a TIF district, the tax increment – the difference between the property tax revenues on the property when it went into the TIF and the revenues on the property as improved – remains within the TIF to be used for infrastructure and other improvements.
At the Oct. 28 Economic Development Committee meeting, Fifth Ward Alderman Robin Simmons introduced a request to have the City hire a consultant to study the feasibility of expanding the West Evanston TIF. She said expanding the TIF could provide economic benefits to existing businesses, fund needed improvements, and help attract new business to the area.
The City has hired Kane McKenna, the company that has served as the consultant for the other TIF districts here, to conduct the study.
Roughly the study area encompasses parts of a larger area from Ridge Avenue to Bridge Street and from Simpson Street to Church Street. Residential properties are not always included in a TIF district. Key properties within this area are the Morton Civic Center, Family Focus Building (formerly Foster School), the Green Bay Road frontage, small businesses along Simpson Street, and additional small businesses at Emerson/Green Bay/Asbury intersections. City officials have also noted the potential to support mix-income housing there.
Boundaries of a study area are not necessarily the boundaries of a final TIF district, and the inclusion of a property in a TIF district does not imply redevelopment.
While the study may not reach City Council until late January or early February, the West Evanston TIF expansion was a topic of the Dec. 10 Joint Review Board meeting. The Joint Review Board is composed of representatives of all taxing bodies affected by a TIF district. They also convene when a new TIF district or the expansion of an existing one is contemplated. The life of a TIF district is typically 23 years.
City Economic Development Manager Paul Zalmezak said, “We [City officials] think that this particular TIF district abutted against the [current] West Evanston TIF District would be helpful to achieve some goals we have in mind,” such as equity and affordable housing.
City Manager Erika Storlie has been discussing the possibility of selling some City assets, including the Civic Center, 2100 Ridge Ave., Mr. Zalmezak said.
“Today, the Civic Center generates zero tax revenues. If we incorporate this parcel, for potential redevelopment, or reuse, this could be a good thing,” Mr. Zalmezak said. Returning the property to the tax rolls would generate property tax income.
City Council and the City Manager have been negotiating with Library trustees to move some City offices to the Main Library, 1703 Orrington Ave.
Talk of selling the Civic Center goes back more than a decade, when residents approved an advisory referendum to keep rather than sell the building.
Mary Rodino, Chief Financial Officer at Evanston Township High School, said she had mixed feelings about putting the Civic Center property into a TIF district.
“Fifteen years ago, when I was [working] at the City, we talked about the Civic Center and the great other uses for that property,” she said. “And that went up in flames. I mean, I was at many night meetings on that. And I guess my other feeling is [that] it’s a really valuable property in itself. Why does it need to be in a TIF?”
Ms. Rodino asked when the other taxing bodies would meet to discuss the proposed TIF expansion.
Mr. Zalmezak said the discussions with the taxing bodies should take place as soon as possible after the City agrees to move forward with the TIF expansion – or “maybe even a little before … so we know upfront as we examine this, if school districts are for or against it.”
Ms. Rodino said she was not stating a position against the TIF. She said the School Districts in Evanston have generally been supportive of TIFs “and I’ve learned from my counterparts that that is very often not the case. I think we’ve had a lot of great communication on what TIFs had intended to do. And so I speaking for myself, and not necessarily for [Rafael Obafemi, CFO of School District 65] or any of the other districts, I would love to have a conversation in more detail about this and at the soonest point that it’s appropriate.”
She also said she had some specific questions about some of the parcels in the proposed expansion.
Mr. Zalmezak agreed that the School Districts should meet about the TIF before the matter is taken to City Council and said he hoped a meeting could be scheduled in early January.
West Evanston TIF
Established in 2005, the West Evanston TIF, whose lumpy shape somewhat resembles a capital italicized I as it stretches along Dodge Avenue from Emerson Street to Greenleaf Street, could be expanded as far north as Simpson Street and as far east as Ridge Avenue.