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City Council Split Over Dempster-Dodge TIF

The vote on a $23-million TIF district could be decided by a single alderman.

For the second time in just over a two-week span, Evanston aldermen will have the opportunity to approve the formation of a when they convene at tonight’s City Council meeting.

But based on past council sessions and recent interviews, it seems that a vote on the formation could be decided by a slim margin — perhaps even a single alderman.

The proposed TIF district would aim to help redevelop the Evanston Plaza shopping center, located at the southwest corner of Dempster Street and Dodge Avenue, and is projected to generate $20 million over 23 years.

Having initially been listed as “for action” at the council’s June 11 meeting, after several aldermen expressed concerns that the redevelopment planning process had left them in the dark on several important issues.

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At a previous council meeting, Ald. Delores Holmes (5th Ward) said that the city needed to meet with representatives from Dominick’s, the shopping center’s anchor tenant, to explore what businesses the grocer would allow in the plaza. Ald. Don Wilson (4th Ward) said the plan had not provided adequate information on upfront city spending and short-term needs. Ald. Coleen Burrus (9th Ward) opposed the proposal, saying creating a TIF district in a single-owner parcel was not “an appropriate use of TIF funds.”

While city staff has attempted to address some of these complaints in advance of tonight’s meeting, it is unclear whether opposing aldermen will accept their explanation.

According to tonight’s City Council packet, city staff members have reportedly engaged in discussions with Dominick’s representatives, but the document made no indication whether the grocery store chain might entertain

The packet also lays out a basic plan for initial redevelopment, capping the city’s initial short-term investment at $2 million and communicating plaza-owner Bonnie Management’s “preliminary list of immediate needs.” In the document, Bonnie lists its immediate needs as $1.8 million for “tenant improvements [and] allowances for landlord work,” $55,000 for canopy repair and $145,000 for miscellaneous site work and landscaping.

Though Ald. Wilson said that he had not had time to carefully review the packet, he stated he would still “probably not” vote for the TIF’s formation, saying he had not seen evidence of why Bonnie needed TIF money to succeed in redeveloping Evanston Plaza.

“I don’t really still know what the deal is,” Wilson said Friday. “There would have to be some kind of redevelopment plan showing what’s going to be different, and I would have to have clear picture of what would be different using the TIF versus what the developer would otherwise do on their own with their own money. In other words, I’m not clear on why we need to support the developer at this point, because I don’t know how it’s going to achieve a different result.”

Additionally, according to Ald. Peter Braithwaite (2nd Ward), Ald. Mark Tendam (6th Ward) has flipped sides since the June 11 meeting and now opposes the TIF formation. Tendam could not be reached for comment.

Braithwaite, who in the past has said that he believes a TIF district is the only route toward , said Friday that he still thinks the establishing ordinance has the votes to pass.

“From the very beginning, we had a strong majority going into the vote,” Braithwaite said. “One of our aldermen wasn’t there [at the June 11 meeting] and we lost support from one, but there are still enough votes to pass it and we should be fine moving forward.”

Still, if Tendam has indeed had a change of heart and none of the previously-opposed aldermen alter their stances, the vote on a $23-million TIF district could be decided by a single alderman.

When asked whether he would outright oppose the TIF district or attempt to table the ordinance for a second time, Wilson said Friday that he was still unsure of how he would approach the meeting.

Aldermen Holmes, Rainey, Burrus, Wynne and Tendam could not be reached for comment.

Take a look at the full packet for tonight’s City Council meeting here.

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