By Bob Seidenberg
How are Evanston’s Tax Increment Financing Districts faring?
There was no definitive answer yet as Evanston officials said at the city’s annual Joint Board meeting Dec. 19 they are still awaiting more current revenue figures from Cook County.
Some, like Chicago-Main TIF, have only a few projects since its creation.
Others, like the West Evanston TIF, have a lot of projects bubbling.
And some like the recently-created Five-Fifths have raised questions just how TIF revenues will be used, particularly with talk of the city building a new Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center in that area.
The Evanston TIF basics
The city current has five active TIFs – Howard Ridge, West Evanston, Dempster Dodge, Chicago Main and Five-Fifths.
In a TIF district, the tax increment – the difference between the property tax revenues on the parcel as it went into the TIF and as improved – remain within the special district to be used for public projects, such as infrastructure.
Paul Zalmezak, the city’s Economic Development Manager, provided a brief report on the districts at the annual meeting.
Howard and Ridge, the oldest of the existing TIFs, established in 2003 and scheduled to expire in 2027, had an initial equalized assessed value (EAV) of roughly $6 million. Its latest project is the four-story 73,017-square-foot Ann Rainey Apartments, 1015 Howard St. The $25 million project is a partnership between Council for Jewish Elderly’s Senior Life, Evergreen and U.S. Bancorp Community Development Adult Day Services Center.
The West Evanston TIF district was established in 2005 with an EAV of $37.4 million and runs until 2029. The city is eyeing uses to support redevelopment further north in a strip that runs along Emerson Street and includes Positive Connections (formerly Robinson Bus Company), a United States maintenance facility, an auto repair shop, and Tapecoat, a plastic coating company.
- Percolating projects: Council members also approved $560,000 in West Evanston TIF funds be allocated to Clarence and Wendy Weaver, the owners of C&W Market, 1901 Church St. The Weavers sought the funds to acquire and renovate the property where they are currently tenants, adding six affordable apartments.
Other initiatives percolating in that district include a joint project with Mount Pisgah Church and the Housing Opportunity Development Corporation to redevelop a former city lot into mixed use/mixed income.
To the southwest in the same TIF district, the city has acquired some parcels along the vacated rail line and is in early phase of discussions about “how do we create conditions for pedestrians and cyclists in the street,” Zalmezak said.
South of Dempster (past another TIF district), some public works projects are planned for the industrial area that currently includes Goldfish Swim School, Temperance Beer Company and other businesses.
The Dempster-Dodge TIF, which runs to 2036, includes the Evanston Plaza Shopping Center, established in 2012 with an initial EAV of $10.8 million.
Evanston Plaza, Dempster Street and Dodge Avenue.
Officials first discussed creating a town or business center when Dominick’s announced they were leaving the Chicago area, said Zalmezak, “[but I’m] not sure that a shopping center would be viable in the economic world we’re in today.”
Fortunately, Valli Produce relocated to occupy the onetime Dominick’s space, investing in improvements, including the facade and structure itself, Zalmezak said.
“(We) live in an environment where it’s difficult to fill a strip shopping center like this one,” he said.
The Chicago Main TIF, created in 2013 with an initial EAV of $11.5 million, runs until 2037. This TIF includes the Chicago-Main-Custer Avenue shopping district.
At the time the council approved the district, it earmarked $2 million to acquire office space for the high rise at the corner of Chicago Avenue and Main Street.
The Main-Chicago TIF.
The district also includes the Vogue Fabric property, now under construction with a five-story mixed use building with 120 dwelling units.
“This is going to be a transformational project on the west end of Main Street because it’s going to add 120 units,” Zalmezak said at the meeting. “So figure close to 200 people then living on that corner, who will then go down their elevator, grab coffee, grab a bite to eat, maybe shop across the street at Squeezebox.
“It’s an important game changer,” he said. “It’s going to generate significant increment for the TIF district which can then be invested in the infrastructure.”
The Five-Fifths TIF was designated in 2021 and runs until 2044. The concentrated activity area is in the Fifth Ward with a couple of parcels from the Second Ward, including the Trulee Evanston retirement community building, 1815 Norwood Ct.
“Yes you’ll see in this map that Foster Field, Fleetwood and Family Focus are in the TIF district,” said Zalmezak, acknowledging concerns raised during the public comment portion of the meeting. “That does not necessarily mean” that the TIF will be use for those projects, he said.
Hill Arts District is also in the district. “South of Simpson you’ll see there are a significant number of housing units, including the Emerson Jackson properties that the city recently acquired that are in the TIF.
“If you look at the origins of the TIF district,” he said, “it was really meant to help support affordable housing development and renovation so lots of these single family homes and small apartment buildings could be improved.”
During public comments at the beginning of the meeting, longtime resident Trisha Connolly spoke about including citizens in the TIF process, maintaining that some of the decisions in the past have been “a little unsettling — that projects come forward and it’s decided that TIF is going to be used, but there hasn’t been any community input in those particular wards or TIF area to weigh in on what they feel are the most important projects for that area.”
Tina Paden, a longtime landlord, expressed frustration that she has been requesting funds to support her efforts to provide affordable housing and been bypassed. She cited the city’s recent decision to award the Weavers TIF money to expand their ice cream and grocery business, adding some affordable housing units. “Are we really concerned about affordable housing, or are we just pretending?” she asked.
Zalmezak noted that there is a TIF application process. Once that is filled out, he said the next step is to look at how the city would respond to the affordable housing component of it. “And I hear what you’re saying, yes, it does feel like a couple of businesses have stepped forward,” he told Paden.
He also said there is a need for a TIF advisory committee up and running to address such situations.