Evanston aldermen, residents discuss TIF district at public hearing

Manuel Rapada

Evanston aldermen dominated discussion Monday on a proposed tax increment financing district that could help increase business occupancy at the Evanston Plaza shopping center. The city held the public hearing Monday at the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center to give residents the opportunity to share opinions and discuss the plan with city officials and Chicago-based consultant Kane, McKenna and Associates, Inc. The proposed TIF district, a single parcel of land on the southwest corner of Dempster Street and Dodge Avenue, would last for up to 23 years and give the city an estimated $20 million budget for costs such as utility improvements and building rehabilitation. The proposed district will give the city and Evanston Plaza property owner Bonnie Management Corporation the ability to attract quality retailers, said Paul Zalmezak, the city’s economic development coordinator. Nicholas Greifer from Kane, McKenna and Associates reiterated that the proposed district qualifies as a “blighted-improved area” meeting six of 13 factors set by the TIF act present in the area, one more than needed for the classification. Regarding the shopping center’s excessive vacancies, he said the Evanston Plaza is currently 48 percent unoccupied, an “extraordinarily high” figure. “It’s not uncommon for … shopping centers to have a turnover churn, but that usually is in the 10 to 15 percent range,” Greifer said. He later added that this is a structural, long-term issue that a TIF district could address. Ald. Coleen Burrus (9th) said she was skeptical about establishing a TIF on an already developed parcel, saying the real problem is lackluster marketing by the commercial developer. “I’m not sure why we are taking on this burden when they just need to find better tenants,” Burrus said. Resident Jeff Smith, the only member of the public to comment on the plan, said he opposed creating a TIF district and said the requirements have not been met to establish this district. “You can TIF all you want, and you can build all you want, but unless you adjust to market and let the market work some of what markets are supposed to do, it’s not going to happen,” Smith said. According to a city memo, property taxes distributed to local tax bodies for the duration of the TIF district would be calculated using a base of approximately $10.8 million, the 2010 equalized assessed valuation of property, a value that ensures property is valued fairly statewide. Should the TIF district’s EAV increase through reoccupancy and other improvements, property taxes on the difference between the new and the base EAV, known as the “increment,” would help fund additional projects in the district. Ald. Ann Rainey (8th) said there is nothing to lose with setting this TIF district because the city is not currently getting any increment. “You just can’t lose,” Rainey said. “…We’re saying, ‘Look, shopping center. It’s up to you. You’re either going to generate this increment, and we’re going to plow it back in to making you more successful or not.'” The Joint Review Board, consisting of Ald. Mark Tendam (6th), representatives from tax bodies that would be affected by the TIF district and an Evanston resident unanimously approved a non-binding recommendation in support of the tax district to the council April 12. TIF ordinances can be introduced 14 to 90 days after Monday’s public hearing, according to a city memo, making the May 29 council meeting the first opportunity to introduce and adopt these ordinances. [email protected]