A proposed TIF district for the southwest corner of Dempster and Dodge garnered vocal support from some aldermen and concerns from others during a public hearing Monday.
“I see this as just a really important thing for us to do,” said first ward alderman Judy Fiske. “I think this will have an incredible effect on the four corners.”
Ninth ward alderman Coleen Burrus was skeptical, however.
“I am pro-TIF over all, I’m for redevelopment of areas that haven’t been developed, I’m just not sure how this works here,” she said.
Under the proposal created by the city’s economic development department and consultant Kane, McKenna and Associates, the Evanston Plaza shopping center could benefit from up to $20 million in tax increment financing over the next 23 years.
With a vacancy rate of 52 percent and store sizes too large to attract new tenants, the shopping center has been in decline for years. According to Paul Zalmezak, economic development planner, the TIF district would allow the city to reinvest expected tax gains into the shopping center in order to spur growth and make renovations.
“Frankly, it’s the strongest tool available for hyperlocal economic development,” he told the council at Monday’s meeting. “And the value created in the TIF district is recycled directly back into the district.”
Since the center was recently purchased by Bonnie Management, Zalmezak said a TIF district could be a way to help the new owners attract better tenants.
“We want to incentivize them a little bit and maybe leverage something a little bit above average,” he said.
Part of the problem with the shopping center is its layout, with store sizes that were designed for users that have long since left, like Toys ‘R Us and Blockbuster. A TIF district could give the city funds and power to revamp the layout, according to Robert Rychlicki of Kane, McKenna.
It could also help attract new tenants through targeted marketing—something that would obviously be key to any redevelopment.
“I think the shopping center isn’t attractive because of the vacancies,” said eighth ward alderman Ann Rainey. “Were they occupied, which this TIF could do through incentives, then I think you would see a huge change.”
Alderman Burrus, however, wondered why the city should play a role in attracting new stores—given that the shopping center has an owner and manager.
“I’m just really skeptical about putting a TIF on a parcel that’s already developed, when really what this is about is a commercial developer really marketing,” Burrus said. “I’m not sure why we’re taking on this burden when they just need to find better tenants.”
Alderman Donald Wilson was worried about whether there was enough of a cohesive plan in place, given that developers would be competing with more established shopping centers around Evanston for tenants.
“I don’t view this as a plan, I view this as a tool and a possible plan,” Wilson said. “That’s one of the things that I’m not comfortable with.”
He said any possible plan should take on not just the shopping center itself, but the perception of the area around it—an area that, for some, he said, has a reputation for being unsafe.
Aldermen will discuss the TIF district again at the city council meeting on Tuesday, May 29, when members of the council are expected to vote on whether or not to go forward with the proposal.