Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Friday December 5th, 2014, 4:18pm

Aldermanic Candidate Questions TIF Use In Chicago's 11th Ward, Calls For Better Use Of Funds

Tax increment financing (TIF) districts located solely in Chicago's 11th Ward on the South Side had $69.5 million in unspent property tax revenue sitting in their collective bank accounts at the start of this year. 

That money would have otherwise been dispersed among the local units of government that rely on property tax revenue, including the school and park districts, were it not for the city's controversial TIF program, which is intended to spur economic development in "blighted" areas.

The Chicago-based CivicLab revealed that TIF finding and relevant information at a Thursday night meeting held at the First Lutheran Church of the Trinity, 643 W. 31st St., in Bridgeport.

The non-profit CivicLab launched its TIF Illumination Project, which highlights how the city's TIF program works at the ward level, back in February 2013. The group has brought to light hard-to-analyze public TIF information in 35 Chicago wards thus far. 

For its 11th Ward TIF analysis, the CivicLab based its findings on the new Chicago ward map that will take effect next year. Areas of Pilsen and University Village were included in the new 11th Ward as part of the remap approved by the council in 2012.

At the meeting, Tom Tresser, co-founder of the CivicLab and its chief TIF illuminator, revealed that the 14 TIF districts that fall partially or completely within the 11th Ward extracted $16 million in property tax revenue in 2013 alone. This occured as public schools in the 11th Ward faced $4.2 million in budget cuts last year, according to the CivicLab.

In all, there were 151 active Chicago TIF districts last year, which brought in a collective $422 million in property tax revenue in 2013. That tax revenue gets extracted from property owners living inside a TIF district. 

In return, TIF money is used for economic development projects, like a housing facility or retail project, that will supposedly generate future property taxes inside the TIF district, which typically has a 23-year life cycle. TIF money is also often used for improving streets as well as other public-sector and non-profit projects.

Chicago's TIF program is controversial in part because the city has doled out millions of dollars for projects downtown, while some truly blighted areas have seen few benefits. TIF critics have also called into question the city's practice of handing hefty subsidies to big corporations such as Coca-Cola, the Hyatt Hotels and others.

Since the inception of the 11th Ward TIF districts, $46 million in collected property tax revenue was allocated for private projects, including $5 million for Vienna Beef to move its North Side factory to Bridgeport. Renovations at Dunbar Park and Taylor Lauridsen Park were among the public 11th Ward projects that got TIF money, the CivicLab found.

The TIF Illumination presentation was sponsored in part by Friends of Maureen Sullivan, the candidate committee of the 11th Ward hopeful vying to replace retiring Ald. James Balcer.

Sullivan, who attended the TIF meeting, said she has been pushing the city to renovate the Ramova Theater at 35th and Halsted streets for years, to no avail.

The city currently owns the property, which has been closed since 1986 and is located in the 35th and Halsted TIF District.

"The Ramova is a perfect example of what TIFs should be used for," she said. "TIFs are supposed to be used ... to fund projects and eliminate blight, bring jobs to the neighborhood and fund projects that would not happen but (for) those dollars.

"If the Ramova Theater is not that ... I don't quite know what is," Sullivan continued. "If you know what 35th and Halsted looks like, it's just mind boggling" that more hasn't been done with TIFs to spruce up the area.

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This was our 26th TIF town meeting or "Illumination." We reveal details of what TIFs do to us at the ward level that no one else can tell you. Check us out at http://www.tifreports.com. If you would like YOUR ward Illuminated, email info@civiclab.us

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