TIF districts offer mixed results for Evanston

Amanda Gilbert, Reporter

Evanston’s City Council recently approved a new TIF district at the southwestern corners of Dempster Street and Dodge Avenue Monday night, despite opposition from some aldermen.

Ald. Donald Wilson (4th) said a TIF, or tax-increment financing, is a financing method that creates land boundaries within the City of Evanston. As the property value and the amount of taxes increase within these boundaries, the difference between the current tax amount and the future tax amount is collected in a fund, he said.

“So the money gets collected over time, and it gets used for improvements in the area,” Wilson said. “The purpose is to promote development.”

The funds are given to the property owner for improvements, and he or she is supposed to pay these funds back in the future, he said.

The council approved a proposal for $20 million in tax-increment financing for the property between Dempster and Dodge over the next 23 years.

“It’s really only the property that contains the shopping center,” Wilson said. This TIF district is made out of an old Dominick’s shopping center that went out of business. The shopping center’s new owner will be Bonnie Management, a company that provides commercial real estate services.

Ald. Peter Braithwaite (2nd) and and Ald. Delores Holmes (5th) supported the TIF district. They said they hope Bonnie Management will be able develop the shopping center with the help of funds from tax-increment financing.

“The only vision I have for the shopping center is to add some type of family centered entertainment, like bowling or a game room,” Holmes wrote in an email. “I think every part of the community impacts the overall city.”

Wilson agrees that Evanston has seen a return in the money invested for some districts in the past. He said the district containing the movie theater is now prosperous despite once being underdeveloped.

However, not all districts have had as positive results. As a whole, Evanston’s TIF districts earned $7.1 million in 2011. That is less then the $8.1 million earned through the TIFs in 2010.

Ald. Wilson argued against adding another TIF proposal for reasons other then the decrease in revenue from the districts this past year.

He said he did not support the new Dodge-Dempster district proposal because he did not understand how the store is going to be redeveloped.

“The plan to me wasn’t a plan. It was just giving money to a private property owner,” Wilson said. “There was no specifics on how to change the tone of the property or how to improve the neighborhood.”

The proposal calls for $3 million for improvements in utility, $4 million for parking and landscaping, $1.25 million for interest rate subsidies to the developers, $4 million for site preparation, and $4.75 for rehabilitation of the shopping center. However, it does not specify on any projects for how this money will be spent.

After hearing this proposal, Wilson said he was concerned with the big investment and the lack of specifics.

“I just wanted to know what the goals were with this plan,” he said.