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The June 3 meeting of the Joint Review Board to consider a recommendation on the Five-Fifths tax-increment financing TIF district attracted nearly twice the typical number of interested residents. They raised questions about the possible developments in the proposed TIF district, opening up the possibilities of robust discussions at the July 12 public hearing and beyond.
Mandated by State law, the Joint Review Board is composed of representatives of each taxing body that takes a bite of the local property tax bill. In a TIF district, the tax increment – the difference between the tax revenues on the property as it enters the TIF and as it is improved – remains in the TIF until it is retired, typically 23 years.
When a TIF is being proposed, all taxing bodies thus affected are invited to send a representative to the Joint Review Board to consider whether or not to recommend that City Council adopt the TIF district. At the June 3 meeting, Philip McKenna and Nina Coppola of Kane McKenna, the City’s TIF consultant, presented a case for creating the Five-Fifth’s TIF in the City’s Fifth Ward.
The name of the proposed TIF harks back to the Three-Fifths Clause in Article I, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution, which declared that any person who was not “free” would be counted as 3/5 of a person in determining population apportioning representation in Congress, said City Senior Economic Manager Paul Zalmezak.
“I know the three-fifths compromise in the U.S. Constitution may not have been an Illinois thing, but it is in fact, or was in our country’s Constitution. And this name is symbolic of really making this part of the community whole again, so it’s kind of a clunky name, but it’s meaningful, and it also represents the Fifth Ward,” the historic heart of the City’s Black community, said Mr. Zalmezak.
Referring to the slide on the screen at that time, Mr. Zalmezak said it “focuses on the Black Lives Matter movement and Black empowerment, because that’s what you’re trying to do. We’re trying to provide a tool that maybe leverages the reparations conversation. We want to use the TIF to maybe leverage additional [federal rescue] dollars to implement infrastructure improvements in the area.”
Joint Review Board members who attended the June 3 meeting were Mary Rodino, Chief Financial Officer of School District 202; Raphael Obafemi, Chief Financial Officer of School District 65; Muhammad Eladi of Cook County; and Jeffrey Gastrow, budget manager of Oakton Community College. The members elected Linnea Latimer as the public member of the Board for the meeting. She lives within the proposed TIF district area and attended several public meetings about the TIF, said Mr. Zalmezak, who nominated her.
Council members Clare Kelly, 1st Ward; Bobby Burns, 5th Ward; and Devon Reid, 8th Ward, also attended the meeting.
A Tour of the TIF
Mr. Zalmezak advised those in attendance that the term “redevelopment plan” is a term of art used in TIF planning and “does not mean that we are redeveloping the area with bulldozers and cranes and the like.”
He described the boundaries of the TIF, shown on the map above, and noted some significant properties located within the area, such as the Morton Civic Center, properties along Green Bay Road, Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center, Foster Field, and the Weissbourd-Holmes Family Focus building. There are a few residential properties within the boundaries of the proposed TIF, but they are not slated for any changes, Mr. Zalmezak said.
The Civic Center is included in this proposed district, because the City Council is going to begin the public process about what the future of that property is, Mr. Zalmezak said. “Is this going to be our civic center for eternity, or will we be relocating from it? If the City government relocates from this site, at some point, the property likely goes back onto the tax roles and begins generating tax for the City of Evanston. … Imagine if the building were to be sold to somebody else in a private sector and it was converted to another use for generating taxes, all of that money would come back into this [TIF] district.” He added that the City “would never dream” of bulldozing Ingraham Park, which is located behind the Civic Center, nor of tearing up the front gardens there.
“I believe City Council would agree with that,” he said. “There’s just no reason to do any development on those and those green spaces.”
Noting the project under construction at the Emerson/Green Bay/Ridge intersection, Mr. Zalmezak said he would like to use some of the tax increment from the project to develop affordable housing farther west in the TIF.
“So how do we know how do we improve what we have and help expand and help improve the existing buildings in the area or the small number of vacant lots that we have?” he said.
“We’re really trying to focus and use this as a financial tool to really, really focus on the events of last summer … and the awareness that we as a community have now as it relates to Black entrepreneurship, and the challenges the structural racism and other issues pertaining to Black commerce in Evanston.”
He added, “I don’t mean to oversimplify those issues. I’m just trying to complete it through a TIF presentation. So the plan here is to use this as a tool to implement a lot of the ideas that this community has been talking about for the last 12 months and longer.”
The City is also contemplating an update to its Comprehensive Plan that would “focus on development with low and moderate income neighborhoods, especially our west side. And this proposed TIF district provides the tools to help implement that plan.”
Qualifying Factors and Kay Elements
Nina Coppola of Kane, McKenna and Associates described the process of determining the eligibility of property for a “conservation area” of TIF district.
- Having an area greater than one-and-one-half acres: This area consists of 281 tax parcels.
- Conforming with the City’s Comprehensive Plan: Conformity is found in the promotion of economic development, which is part of the Comprehensive Plan and is a major purpose of TIFs.
- Being the “but for” in economic growth. Because the TIF provides incentives to catalyze redevelopment, Ms. Coppola said, “I think it’s reasonable to assume that probably development would not happen on a scale that it could if we have a TIF in place to allow not only for incentives, but for redevelopment to occur in a coordinated manner.”
- Having at least 50% of the buildings more than 35 years old: In this area, 84% of the buildings are over 35 years of age.
- As a conservation area, meeting at least three of 13 key factors.
Of the 13 key factors, Kane, McKenna found the area meets the following qualifying factors:
- Obsolescence, relating to the age of the buildings, 55% of which are more than 100 years old, and to the underutilization or some buildings and the vacancy of others;
- Deterioration, as evidenced in siding, garages, gutters and windows; peeling paint; potholes; and cracked asphalt;
- Inadequate utilities, as evidenced by information from City staff that 44% of all of the water mains within the proposed need replacement, 37% of the combined sanitary storm sewer needs to be realigned, and 16% of the roadway paving within the area falls below the industry’s standards;
- Excessive lot coverage, as evidenced by the lack of street parking and insufficient loading areas and the crowding of buildings on certain sites;
- Lack of community planning, because the area was laid out before the Comprehensive Plan was created; and
- Lagging equalized assessed valuation. This last factor may be dropped, depending on the results of the 2020 assessments.
The Joint Review Board members unanimously approved a recommendation to City Council to create the Five-Fifths TIF in the area specified on the map. The budget for the TIF is $89,250,000, to be spent over its 23-year lifespan. While line items in the budget may be altered, the final amount may not be changes, Mr. Zalmezak said.
Phil McKenna of Kane, McKenna said the Joint Review Board could take up to 30 days to consider whether to approve the procedures for approval. “Once the JRB has begun meeting, as it is today, it has 30 days in which to consider whether or not it would vote affirmatively to the City Council with respect to a TIF district. The vote is to be based upon the qualification considerations, which are contained in the redevelopment plan, which will be discussed in more detail.”
Throughout the meeting, several of those in attendance asked questions that Mr. Zalmezak said would be appropriate for the public hearing or other public meetings. Among the questions were whether the TIF would entail gentrification of the area and whether creating affordable housing there would essentially increase segregation in the community, because it would be targeted for minority populations.
The public hearing for the Five-Fifths TIF is scheduled for July 12. Notice will be sent to those who live within 750 feet around the TIF district.
City Council members will review the input they received from the public hearing. If City Council approves the TIF by passing ordinances establishing it, those will be filed with the County Clerk.
Should Council approve the TIF, it would be Evanston’s 10th, four or which remain active: Howard-Ridge, West Evanston, Dempster-Dodge, and Chicago- Main.