Evanston aldermen delayed a final vote Monday night on a tax-increment financing (TIF) district proposed for Evanston Plaza so that the city could first meet with anchor tenant Dominick’s.
By a 5-3 vote, aldermen tabled discussion of the TIF district, which is expected to generate $20 million over 23 years that would be used to rehaul the shopping center at the southwest corner of Dempster and Dodge.
Fifth ward alderman Delores Holmes suggested that before the city could move forward with creation of the TIF district, they ought to know what was in Dominick’s lease agreement with the owners of the shopping center. She said she hoped to see a bowling alley or Dave and Buster’s type establishment move in, to draw families and traffic, but she was concerned there might be restrictions in Dominick’s lease.
“I certainly am in support of the TIF and I hope that’s clear,” Holmes said. “I’m just not in support of the timing now.”
Holmes said she would also like to see the TIF district pass with a larger majority of aldermen in support. Fourth ward alderman Don Wilson and ninth ward alderman Coleen Burrus both said they opposed the proposal.
Burrus said she did not believe that creation of a TIF district on a single parcel, like this one, where there is one owner, was “an appropriate use of TIF funds.” Evanston Plaza was recently purchased by developer Bonnie Management, and Burrus said she did not see why the city should step in.
“That’s almost $1 million per year to one owner for one site,” Burrus said. “It just doesn’t make a lot of sense to me when we have other opportunities to use economic development to help this site.”
Both Burrus and Wilson said they did not believe that the city’s consultant on the proposal, Kane, McKenna and Associates, had provided enough in the way of a redevelopment plan for the site.
“I don’t have a sense of what the upfront dollar commitment is going to be. It could be $100,000, it could be $5 million,” Wilson said. “The statutory requirements are one thing, but my expectations are different. I expect to see a pretty good definition of what’s going to be spent.”
Third ward alderman Melissa Wynne said that a detailed, step-by-step plan should not be necessary, and that it was not something the city had done with every TIF district in the past. She cited the example of the Howard/Ridge TIF, which yielded an apartment building at 415 Howard Street, and an older TIF that was designed to build a research park downtown but ultimately became the site of the Century 12 movie theater.
“These TIFS are frameworks for us to then create the plan within them,” she said. “We’ve done this before. I have confidence in Kane, McKenna and our city staff.”
Second ward alderman Peter Braithwaite, first ward alderman Judy Fiske and eighth ward alderman Ann Rainey said they believed a TIF district was the only route to economic improvement for the shopping center, which had a 52 percent vacancy rate as of January 2012.
“But for this TIF, I believe sincerely that this shopping center is going to deteriorate,” Rainey said. “It would be an absolute crime not to pass this TIF.”
Rainey, however, said she would support having a conversation with Dominick’s first, given that the grocery store was the major tenant in Evanston Plaza.
“There are things in their lease that restrict uses that take up lots of parking. That’s what I want to talk to them about. That’s ridiculous,” she said. “You could roll a bowling ball through that parking lot at any time of day or night and not hit anything.”
Burrus moved to table the item to a future council meeting after city staff had time to talk to the grocery store. The motion passed 5-3, with Wynne, Fiske and Braithwaite voting in opposition.
“Whether or not Dominick’s is playing ball, we still need to have development in that area,” said Braithwaite, whose ward the proposed TIF district is located in. “The TIF is a tool to bring about that economic change that is very much needed not only in the west side of Evanston but in that particular parcel."