City council members voted 7-2 Monday to approve creation of a $25 million tax-increment financing (TIF) district centered at the intersection of Chicago Avenue and Main Street.
Ald. Don Wilson (4th ward) and Ald. Coleen Burrus (9th ward) cast the dissenting votes against the TIF district, which runs along Chicago Avenue between Dempster and Oakton streets and stretches out across Main Street between Sherman and Hinman avenues.
Presenting the enabling ordinances to council members, city manager Wally Bobkiewicz described the Chicago-Main TIF as an investment in the city’s future that would leverage existing assets. Those include a $1 million state grant to fund development of ultra high-speed internet service along the Chicago Avenue corridor, the district’s location near both a CTA and Metra station, and a developer’s plans to build a mixed-use office and retail building at the southeast corner of Chicago and Main.
“It’s an investment in making sure there’s a location for jobs. It’s an investment that leverages a really priceless transportation infrastructure from the CTA and Metra. It’s an investment for the business owners that have been on Main Street for years,” Bobkiewicz told council members. “All the things that represent the future of Evanston are included in this TIF.”
The redevelopment plan approved by council members calls for TIF funding to be split between infrastructure improvements, construction costs of the office and retail building planned by real estate developer OMS, and improvements to existing businesses.
Some $11.5 million earmarked for infrastructure would go first toward improvements to streets, the CTA and Metra tracks, with a second phase of streetscape projects including street resurfacing and streetlight improvements, according to city documents.
Up to $10 million is budgeted for the new development, including site preparation, demolition, grading and parking facilities. A maximum of $8 million could go toward rehabilitation projects for existing businesses, according to the redevelopment plan.
The proposal calls for projects to be financed via funds borrowed against the TIF district’s expected proceeds. Money would be borrowed only after city officials sign a redevelopment agreement with the developers, according to Bobkiewicz.
Both Ald. Burrus and Ald. Wilson said they opposed the TIF district because they did not believe the funds were necessary to revitalize the area around Chicago and Min.
“The case hasn’t been made for this TIF…It’s not a blighted area,” Burrus said. “If you walk up and down Main Street from Sherman to Hinman, how many vacant storefront issues do you find? Maybe two?”
Burrus said she believed a developer would have built an office building there already if there was truly a need for office space. In fact, OMS initially planned to redevelop the property as a mixed-use retail and residential building, but decided to construct a mixed-use retail and office space based on input from local business owners and elected officials, according to city documents.
Ald. Don Wilson, whose ward encompasses part of the TIF district, said that city staff had tweaked the proposal several times at his suggestion, adding an advisory committee to give existing Main Street merchants some oversight over spending and making funding contingent on an agreement with OMS. Still, he said, the final plan was not one he could support.
Wilson said he didn’t believe government should be funding private developments unless it was a clear example of “leveling the playing field”—but, he said, that wasn’t the case at this intersection.
Furthermore, he added, “I had some reservations on what the exit strategy would be if it didn’t pan out.”
The new, $20 to $30 million building would house retail on the ground floor and office space on the top floors, with public parking sandwiched in between. City officials project that the new office space could bring in up to 300 to 400 new workers to the area.
Ald. Melissa Wynne, who oversees the third ward where most of the district falls, said job creation was her main motive for supporting the project.
“This is our opportunity to put 300 to 400 people there on that corridor in the daytime, enhancing the community in all directions, and bringing real life to those businesses,” she said.
A representative of real estate developer AMLI, which is building a multi-story apartment building at Chicago Avenue and Kedzie Street, also spoke in support of the development, as did John O’Donnell of OMS.
“We’re committed to providing a really state of the art office building,” he said. “I’m quite confident with this public private partnership that we can make this work.”