Monday, April 13, 2009

New TIF in Olympics deal
By: John Pletz April 13, 2009
Mayor Richard M. Daley is backing a South Side alderman's push for a tax-increment financing district near Washington Park, part of City Hall's effort to build support for Chicago's Olympics bid.

Alderman Willie Cochran (20th) proposes a TIF district running south from 55th Street to 63rd Street and stretching west from Martin Luther King Drive to the Dan Ryan Expressway, including parts of the Washington Park and Englewood neighborhoods.

Washington Park and Bronzeville, where the Olympic stadium and athletes' village would be built, have been a focal point of the struggle between residents and City Hall over the benefits of hosting the games. Aldermen won guarantees from the city and its bid committee for Olympics-related jobs and affordable housing in a March 27 agreement between the city, the Chicago 2016 bid committee and community groups. That agreement promises support for a feasibility study of Mr. Cochran's TIF. A feasibility study is the first step and almost always results in the formation of a TIF.

"You know the Olympics will create speculation and investment in Washington Park," says Mr. Cochran, a former Chicago police officer who was elected two years ago. "Whether 2016 exists or not, the TIF is going to go forward. It will happen faster with the Olympics."

Mr. Cochran plans to submit the proposal to the Community Development Commission next month after further discussions with residents. CDC approval would send it to the City Council for authorization.

A TIF freezes normal tax collections at current levels for up to 23 years. Any increase in revenue from new development or inflation pays for improvements within the area, such as infrastructure, instead of going into the city's general fund. Mr. Cochran hasn't proposed a budget for how much the city would collect from the TIF or exactly how that money would be spent.

Arnold Randall, Chicago 2016's outreach director, calls the TIF "a good thing."

The area "probably warrants a TIF as it is," says Sam Polsky, a TIF consultant at Polsky & Associates, who is not working on Mr. Cochran's proposal.

Alderman Willie Cochran has proposed a TIF to foster development near Washington Park, which is bordered on one end by a vacant 3.5-acre lot.


Unlike a TIF for the site of the Olympic Village in Bronzeville, the project Mr. Cochran proposes wouldn't directly benefit the construction of venues in Washington Park. But redeveloping vacant lots and boarded-up storefronts in the surrounding neighborhoods no doubt would make it easier for the city to welcome millions of Olympics visitors.

An example: the 3.5-acre vacant lot at 60th Street and King Drive that the city already is seeking to turn into a mix of residential and retail. The land is across the street from the south entrance to Washington Park, which will be home to the main Olympic stadium.

The Washington Park neighborhood has 43 retailers but no pharmacies, furniture stores or full-service grocers. Its 13,000 residents made $40.1 million in retail purchases in 2007 but could generate another $28 million in the neighborhood if they don't have to leave to shop for other items, according to a study done by the Metropolitan Planning Council, an advocate for affordable housing and transportation, and paid for by the 2016 Fund for Chicago Communities.

"The condition of our business district, it needs help," says Cecilia Butler, president of the Washington Park Advisory Council. "If a TIF will bring in business, then how can we really be against it?"

©2009 by Crain Communications Inc.

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