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Frankie May 30, 2006 10:34 AM

Cicero Avenue about to take off?
May 30, 2006
BY DAVID ROEDER Business Reporter Advertisement

As a showcase for Chicago, Cicero Avenue just doesn't cut it.

The stretch of Cicero between the Stevenson Expy. and Midway Airport is one of the city's most heavily traveled arteries, with some 65,700 vehicles per day. It's the route Midway's arriving passengers take to get downtown and points beyond.

Cicero could exude a warm welcome. But right now, it's as if visitors to Chicago arrived through the host's broken-down back porch.

Parcels are empty, and some storefronts are neglected. Cheap motels overlook junkyards. And the presence on the street of a public housing complex, LeClaire Courts, with many boarded up units, has its own deadening effect.

Midway is a busy airport, so where's the economic spinoff? Drive south of the airport on Cicero and you encounter the Midway Hotel Center, a spic-and-span collection of seven national chains with parking all around. It's in Bedford Park, so none of its tax revenue goes to the city. Bedford Park also has drawn "big box" retailers nearby such as Wal-Mart and Costco.

Chicago officials hope to catch up with the tiny southwest suburb. Last year, consultants working for the city's Department of Planning and Development analyzed the Cicero corridor, and recommended an action plan. The agency is in the early stages of following up.

"Bedford Park has always had a mindset to catch the retail bleed from Chicago," said James Capraro, a co-author of the report and executive director of the Greater Southwest Development Corp. He said the city must work with private investors to make its part of Cicero a destination.

Connie Buscemi, spokeswoman for the planning department, said the street was among several sites the city touted during a recent retail industry convention in Las Vegas. "It attracted a lot of interest. The street is widely traveled, and delivers great exposure. This is what retailers are looking for," she said.

She said the city has held conversations with several developers. One, Centrum Properties, plans a commercial makeover at the northwest corner of Archer and Cicero, Buscemi said. Also, the city has solicited offers for two largely vacant parcels it owns or is acquiring.

They are at 4730 and 6401 S. Cicero. Bid documents state a preference for retail or some other commercial use on the sites, and response deadlines are in mid- to late-July. The properties are each about 32,000 square feet, and carry asking prices of $1.1 million to $1.3 million.

A Starbucks sits at 4701 S. Cicero, a rare outpost for the coffee chain in a working-class neighborhood. But redeveloping the stretch has many challenges.

The city consultants' report said the Cicero strip is plagued by properties that are too small for large-scale improvements. Many are only 100 feet deep, and going back farther would require buying homes. Other issues include the typical urban redevelopment ills -- too many landowners who would inflate asking prices on a speculative whim.

People living in homes near Cicero have relayed rumors that the city wants to buy their properties, either for commercial improvements or airport expansion. City officials emphatically deny that they want to buy homes for any reason.

Capraro said city planners should concentrate on two properties near the corridor's north and south ends. One is just off Cicero and includes a scrap yard and truck parking, while the other is the Midway Business Center, an industrial complex at the southwest corner of Cicero and Archer.

The report said the 1-million-square-foot business center was 60 percent vacant in 2004 because heavy traffic on Cicero made truck access difficult. Capraro said the industrial tenants could be moved near the expressway while the business center could become an upscale hotel next to the airport.

The business center's owner is Sue Gin, real estate entrepreneur and chairman of Flying Food Fare Inc. She said the complex is only about 10 percent vacant now, but that she's open to working with the city on a hotel redevelopment.

"That would be great if that could happen," Gin said. "I really believe that property has a higher and better use."

She said she has built flexibility into her leases so she could relocate if the right offer came along. Gin said she last discussed the property with the city about two years ago and that personnel changes at the planning department have bogged down progress on the issue.

In 2001, Gin and city officials struck a deal for her site to become an employee training center for American Trans Air Inc., a project that promised 2,500 jobs. The travel slump after 9/11 caused ATA to back out, and the airline filed for bankruptcy in 2004.

The other piece vital to Cicero improvements is Le Claire Courts at 43rd Street. The town-house-style project has been a relatively low priority in the CHA's "plan for transformation," the redevelopment of its properties into mixed-income areas.

CHA spokeswoman Karen Pride said the complex totals 616 units, of which 373 are occupied. She said all options are being considered for the property, but offered no timetable for a decision.

The Cicero corridor is a tax-increment financing district, which gives the city a way to finance public improvements. Money from the TIF also could be used to acquire property by eminent domain.

Other contributors to the consultants' study included URS Corp., Goodman Williams Group and Gonzalez Hasbrouck Architects. It concluded that hotels and new retail offered the best potential for Cicero.

It identified limited demand for office space, noting that because Midway is a point-to-point airport, it lacks O'Hare Airport's appeal for corporate headquarters



Why doesn't South Cicero Avenue, the Midway Airport access route, look the way Rosemont does for cuddling up to O'Hare?

James Capraro, executive director of the Greater Southwest Development Corp., said one answer goes back to the 1970s. It's the plan for the old Crosstown Expy., which would have run right up Cicero.

Capraro said the city's Crosstown plan froze private investment. "The motels on Cicero didn't used to be fleabag,'' he said. "After the Crosstown was announced, they became fleabag."

The plan died, but the air of disinvestment lingered. And the street and other neighborhood business strips suffered again when Midway Airlines closed in 1991, said Anita Cummings, executive director of the United Business Association of Midway.

Southwest Airlines took up the slack, but it took a while for the city's No. 2 airport to fully rebound. And the travel downturn after Sept. 11, 2001 squelched some private investment.

Cummings said whenever Midway Airport suffers, local business feels it immediately. For all the complaints about noise and traffic, the downturns "make people realize just how important that airport is to the Southwest Side," Cummings said.

BVictor1 Jun 4, 2006 12:54 AM

National Perspectives
How a Park Changed a Chicago Neighborhood

Published: June 4, 2006

MILLENNIUM PARK, the $475 million modernist playground that opened at the edge of Lake Michigan here two years ago, has quickly become one of the city's leading tourist attractions. What is less known, however, is that the 24.6-acre park — which features a stunning stainless steel band shell and pedestrian bridge designed by the architect Frank Gehry, along with art and gardens by a galaxy of international figures — has had a transforming effect on the surrounding neighborhood.
Susan Grosch in her living room at the Heritage, a new condominium, with the park in the background.

In the late 1990's, the area, known as the East Loop or South Michigan Avenue, was a fairly sleepy retail and office district. In the last five years, however, it has emerged as one of the city's hottest residential neighborhoods with more than a dozen projects rising within blocks of the park.

According to a study commissioned by the city in 2005, the park is responsible for about $1.4 billion in residential development and for increasing residential real estate values in the area by $100 a square foot.

"The East Loop has become an incredibly vibrant asset for the city," said Lori T. Healey, the city's planning commissioner. What has been created there is a mixed-use, round-the-clock neighborhood that includes office, residential, entertainment and open space. "It's a great symbiotic relationship."

Real estate executives agree. "You've got the park, the harbor, Navy Pier, the museums and other cultural attractions and easy access to expressways and public transportation," said James Kinney, president of Rubloff Residential Properties, a real estate brokerage firm. "It's a pretty unbeatable combination."

Others believe the success of the park is contributing to a shift in housing patterns across the city. "The epicenter of urban living in downtown Chicago has been progressively moving south for the last 5 to 10 years," said Thomas O. Weeks, president of the LR Development Company, developer of 340 on the Park, a high-rise condominium building under construction across Randolph Street from the park. "I think there will come a time when Millennium and Grant Parks will define residential living in Chicago much like Central Park does in New York," he said.

(Millennium Park is adjacent to Grant Park, a much larger park to the south that is part of a chain of parks created more than a century ago along the city's lakefront.)

The most successful project to date is probably the Heritage at Millennium Park, a 57-story condominium tower completed 18 months ago on nearby Wabash Avenue with unobstructed views of the park and lake. The building, which has 357 units, sold out well before it was finished at prices ranging from $245,000 for an 800-square-foot studio to $3.5 million for a 5,060-square-foot penthouse.

"The park was the catalyst for realizing this could be a residential neighborhood," said Richard Hanson, a principal with Mesa Development, the project's developer. "I don't think the building would have been viable without it."

In July, Mr. Hanson will break ground on a second tower, called the Legacy, on a site two blocks south of the Heritage. Just over 60 percent of the 355 units have already been sold at prices ranging from $300,000 for an 875-square-foot one-bedroom to $7.8 million for a 9,301-square-foot penthouse.

The buyers for both projects, he said, are mainly "young professionals, empty-nesters and people who are leaving 4,000-square-foot homes in the suburbs and need larger units."

Susan Grosch and her husband, Tony, who bought a two-bedroom unit at the Heritage, are in the second category. Mrs. Grosch is a retired public school teacher while her husband is a lecturer in the English department at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The couple formerly lived in a lakefront neighborhood several miles north of the Loop.

"My husband had wanted to move downtown for many years and periodically would ask me what I thought of this or that location," she said. "I was never very interested until one morning he said, 'How about Millennium Park?' And I said, 'Now, that sounds interesting.' "

The draw is the neighborhood. "We love the convenience, especially being able to walk to so many of the cultural venues, where in the past we've either had to drive or take a bus," she said.

The project that has caused the most stir architecturally is the Aqua Tower, an 80-story high-rise by the architect Jeanne Gang. It will consist of a 215-room hotel and 476 rental apartments on the lower floors and 263 condos on top. The building — which is at least 50 percent sold at prices ranging from $342,000 for an 674-square-foot studio to $2 million for a 3,100-square-foot penthouse — is to begin construction this fall and to be finished in 2009.

The building has a sensuous rippling facade created through the use of irregularly shaped concrete floor slabs. Ms. Gang, a protégée of the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, said the inspiration was striated limestone outcroppings that are a common topographic feature of the Great Lakes region.

"We were looking at ways to tie the building to its place and realized the lake is the biggest thing in the area," Ms. Gang said. She added that the irregular floor plates also serve a practical function in that they allow for many stunning terraces.

Skip to next paragraph

William Zbaren for The New York Times
Millennium Park, as seen in the foreground, has spurred development in the East Loop.

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One early buyer is Nathaniel Pusey, an executive with J. P. Morgan Chase who relocated with his partner, Ronald Schnorbus, to Chicago two years ago from Wilmington, Del. The Aqua, he says, is "an architectural event."

"I like the whole package," he said. "It's enough square footage that I don't have to sell all of my furniture, and I like being near the park and the lake."

Aqua and Mr. Weeks's project, 340 on the Park, are part of a much larger project rising on 28 acres that for most of the last century was occupied by an Illinois Central Railroad train yard.

The project, called Lakeshore East, began in the late 1990's and will eventually consist of 16 high-rise residential buildings as well as a 100,000-square-foot shopping center. So far, six buildings have been completed or are under way. The developer is the Magellan Development Group of Chicago.

Another result of the Millennium Park effect is the renovation of several older office buildings in the area into rental apartments or condos. One of the largest is Metropolitan Tower, a 30-story landmark building at the corner of South Michigan Avenue and Jackson Street designed in 1924 by the architecture firm of Graham, Anderson, Probst & White.

The building, which includes a tower topped by a pyramid, a bell carillon and an elaborate blue beacon, is part of a landmark district created by the city two years ago to preserve a multiblock stretch of historic buildings along Michigan Avenue.

Metropolitan Tower, originally known as the Straus Building, is being converted into 243 condominiums. Prices range from around $300,000 for a 750-square-foot one-bedroom to $1.6 million for a 1,932-square-foot three-bedroom. In addition, there are six penthouses of 3,800 square feet to 5,400 square feet that are being sold as raw space at an average price of $700 a square foot.

Louis D'Angelo, the developer of the building as well as of two smaller projects on the same block, said: "There's an enormous number of people moving back into the city. Crime is down, the schools have improved and there's been a huge investment in public infrastructure in the form of new parks and libraries and police and fire stations.

"And Millennium Park is the icing on the cake."
William Zbaren for The New York Times
Millennium Park, as seen in the foreground, has spurred development in the East Loop.
Construction of the Aqua Tower is expected to begin this fall.

Dan in Chicago Jun 5, 2006 7:44 AM


Millennium Park is adjacent to Grant Park, a much larger park to the south that is part of a chain of parks created more than a century ago along the city's lakefront.
This is a common misunderstanding encouraged by the naming of Millennium Park. Millennium Park is a PART of Grant Park. Not to include it would be like carving out a quarter of Central Park and giving it a different name. Grant Park has always been defined by Randolph, Michigan, the lake, and Roosevelt (although the southern border is a bit more complex). I had this discussion with Bob O'Neill - chairman of the Grant Park Advisory Board - and he confirmed what I have just said.

Jaroslaw Jun 5, 2006 4:07 PM


Originally Posted by NYT
MILLENNIUM PARK, the $475 million modernist playground...

Unclear what is modernist about it... the layout is classical, the contextualization of the art is classical, the sculptures are not "modernist." Maybe they were at a loss for an adjective? Maybe they meant "modern"?

Latoso Jun 6, 2006 10:17 PM


Originally Posted by Dan in Chicago
This is a common misunderstanding encouraged by the naming of Millennium Park. Millennium Park is a PART of Grant Park. Not to include it would be like carving out a quarter of Central Park and giving it a different name. Grant Park has always been defined by Randolph, Michigan, the lake, and Roosevelt (although the southern border is a bit more complex). I had this discussion with Bob O'Neill - chairman of the Grant Park Advisory Board - and he confirmed what I have just said.

I totally agree with you. But isn't MP run independently of GP and the rest of the Chicago Park District?

spyguy Jun 8, 2006 6:43 PM

I agree with their ideas, but the article makes them seem like really odd people.


bicycle equipped with an oldies-playing radio

Standing with his megaphone in hand

riders instead found themselves gazing into Burton’s backyard

"Give it up for the Midwest!" cry

the group’s nemesis, Lake Shore Drive

Dresden-after-the-bombing feel

a fully costumed Daniel Burnham, Montgomery Ward, and George Wellington "Cap" Streeter. That ride stopped after the Burnham look-a-like left Chicago and the following year’s event, "just wasn’t the same," Burton lamented.

And on July 15, the group will host the Queen’s Ride, led by a Queen Elizabeth impersonator. It will start at Queen’s Landing, where a recent de-paving battle was lost.

It's like a cult or something:koko:

VivaLFuego Jun 15, 2006 1:42 AM


Originally Posted by Lukecuj
From city web site:

Mayor Daley Releases $1.7 Billion Capital Improvement Program

Aldermanic Menu Program Gets 10 Percent Boost

Mayor Richard M. Daley today released a $1,699,661,246 Capital Improvement Program for 2006 that includes a 10 percent increase in the Aldermanic Menu Program.

“From the day my administration first took office, we made a commitment to keep the city in good repair, even in uncertain economic times,” Daley said at a news conference at 110th and Peoria streets, where City crews are reconstructing a Depression-era WPA (Works Progress Administration) street.

“These projects seldom make big headlines, but they’re absolutely necessary to improve our neighborhood quality of life and create jobs to sustain the Chicago economy. They will make the city more attractive to prospective employers. And they will make Chicago an even better place to live, work and raise a family.”

The program comprises:

• $190 million in general obligation bonds to pay for the city's neighborhood infrastructure program. This includes:

o $122 million in neighborhood improvements (including $66 million for the aldermanic menu program), and other residential street, curb/gutter, lighting, alley and sidewalk projects;

o $38 million for infrastructure improvements to stimulate economic development citywide (industrial streets, streetscaping, medians, viaducts);

o $30 million for green space, facilities, traffic signals and other upgrades;

• $104 million for water system projects;

• $52 million for sewer improvements;

• $532 million for the O’Hare Modernization Program;

• $544 million in other aviation projects at Chicago's two airports;

• $277 million in federal, state, city and other funding for transportation, economic development, open and green space, and municipal facility projects.

Highlights of the program include:

> Installing 32 miles of new water mains;

> Reconstructing more than 7.2 miles of sewers, and lining and rehabilitating another 12 miles of sewers;

> Resurfacing more than 37 miles of arterial streets;

> Installing new street lights on 220 neighborhood blocks, two for each ward;

> Replacing lamps in all alleys citywide;

> Reconstructing 25 blocks of former WPA streets;

> Constructing six new alleys and resurfacing 128 alleys;

> Resurfacing 510 blocks of local streets;

> Replacing 200 blocks of sidewalks;

> Installing new and modernized traffic signals at 48 intersections;

> Reconstructing Grand Avenue, from Narragansett Avenue to Central Avenue;

> Completing new bridges over the Kennedy Expressway at Washington Street and Monroe Street;

> Beginning work on a new North Avenue Bridge over the North Branch of the Chicago River.

The 2006 Capital Improvement Program increases the Aldermanic Menu Program by 10 percent, bringing it to a total of $66 million, or $1,320,000 per ward

For the second year, the Model Block program has been relaxed, so that each alderman can invest the $120,000 allocation in two Model Blocks, or use the money for other menu-eligible projects.

Hm, I wonder if these include any funds for continuing the CTA subway renovations....since the subway tubes and stations are city assets, while the tracks and signals belong to CTA. Our subway stations, while endearing in their own way, are kind of disgraceful.

Chicago3rd Jun 15, 2006 4:17 AM


Originally Posted by VivaLFuego
Hm, I wonder if these include any funds for continuing the CTA subway renovations....since the subway tubes and stations are city assets, while the tracks and signals belong to CTA. Our subway stations, while endearing in their own way, are kind of disgraceful.

According to CTA most comes from the Feds then the rest comes from IDOT.

"Work on the project began in May 2004. Funding was provided through the Federal Transit Administration (approximately 80 percent) and IDOT (about 20 percent)."

VivaLFuego Jun 16, 2006 12:38 AM


Originally Posted by Chicago3rd
According to CTA most comes from the Feds then the rest comes from IDOT.

"Work on the project began in May 2004. Funding was provided through the Federal Transit Administration (approximately 80 percent) and IDOT (about 20 percent)."

Good catch.

I wouldn't be averse to some or all of the renovation money coming locally though, unless the FTA money invovled somehow prohibits that. Grant money has weird rules sometime. I believe the City of Chicago, through bond issues, property taxes, and TIF districts could do ALOT more to invest some capital money in public transit infrastructure. Wouldn't be hard since they do close to shit now...

alex1 Jun 16, 2006 1:20 AM


Originally Posted by Dan in Chicago
This is a common misunderstanding encouraged by the naming of Millennium Park. Millennium Park is a PART of Grant Park. Not to include it would be like carving out a quarter of Central Park and giving it a different name. Grant Park has always been defined by Randolph, Michigan, the lake, and Roosevelt (although the southern border is a bit more complex). I had this discussion with Bob O'Neill - chairman of the Grant Park Advisory Board - and he confirmed what I have just said.

your analogy doesn't quite work in chicago's instance since Millennium Park wasn't carved out of an existing park but built on top of a railroad track. I doubt you'd find anyone pre-2000 that would have termed that exact location part of Grant Park.

you can call it an extension of Grant Park if you'd like but to me it's Millennium Park. Grant Park is its stodgey neighbor.

Chicago2020 Jun 16, 2006 7:00 AM

Is the city planning on covering up the railroad tracks under the Art Institute??????

Perhaps, turning it to a open space area

VivaLFuego Jun 16, 2006 3:04 PM


Originally Posted by Chicago2020
Is the city planning on covering up the railroad tracks under the Art Institute??????

Perhaps, turning it to a open space area

There's 'plans' to deck the tracks over through Grant Park all the way down to about 15th street, but I'd be shocked if anything happened anytime know, cause it costs money and no one wants to pay for it.

SevenSevenThree Jun 17, 2006 3:54 AM

North Avenue Bridge reconstruction begins

Temporary bridge to handle traffic during construction.

New bridge to feature two full lanes in each direction.

Construction crews next week will begin work to replace the North Avenue Bridge over the North Branch of the Chicago River.

The project will replace the 99-year-old bridge with a modern, architecturally significant bridge employing the latest in bridge technology.

But before that work begins, the city will build a temporary bridge to handle vehicles and pedestrians—so that North Avenue traffic can continue to flow throughout the project.

The new North Avenue bridge will widen the roadway to feature two full lanes in each direction, the same as the rest of North Avenue. Currently, North Avenue narrows to one lane over the bridge.

“This additional lane will be a great benefit to traffic in the North Avenue corridor,” said CDOT Acting Commissioner Cheri Heramb. The new bridge will also feature sidewalks on both sides, a benefit for pedestrians, Heramb said.

The $21.4 million project represents Mayor Richard M. Daley’s continuing investment in Chicago’s transportation infrastructure.

The new bridge will be a hybrid suspension/cable-stay bridge, the first of its kind in Chicago.

The center section will be a suspension bridge, while the ends will be a cable-stay bridge. A suspension bridge hangs from cables anchored at each end, while a cable-stay bridge supports the deck with cables from a central tower or towers.

This configuration allows for an open, airy bridge with a thin deck, or roadway platform. It also creates the maximum amount of clearance over the river, as required by the federal government.

“In a city with a long heritage of innovative bridge design, the new North Avenue Bridge will be a notable addition,” Heramb said.

Traffic impacts

The city has structured the project so that North Avenue will remain open to traffic throughout construction. The temporary bridge will have one lane in each direction, the same as the current configuration. One sidewalk will also remain open.

“As with all our projects, our goal is to minimize the impact on motorists, businesses and residents,” Heramb said.

Motorists wishing to avoid the area can use Cortland to the north or Division to the south.

The project is scheduled for completion in fall 2007.

spyguy Jun 17, 2006 4:49 AM

How tall will the towers be?

HK Chicago Jun 17, 2006 11:16 PM

They look ~40' from the deck.

SevenSevenThree Jun 17, 2006 11:24 PM


Originally Posted by HK Chicago
They look ~40' from the deck.

Yeah. I think I read somewhere theyre 45'.

Frankie Jun 18, 2006 11:49 AM

From this weeks crain's

Residents bring later Loop hours
By Darci Smith

Condo dwellers and tourists heading to Millennium Park are helping prompt changes that make downtown a little friendlier after 5.
Business and cultural centers are trying to meet the demands of the Loop's expanding residential population by extending hours, says Ty Tabing, executive director of the Chicago Loop Alliance. "Percentage-wise, the Loop is the fastest-growing residential neighborhood in the city," he says. "In the past it's been more of a 9-to-5 community."

To find out just how many people now call the neighborhood home, the Chicago Loop Alliance recently funded a study of the neighborhood's various demographics, including residential, business and theater. The study should be completed by summer's end.

When Kim Gray moved to the South Loop last summer from Old Irving Park, she found few after-hours shopping prospects beyond grocery stores and the South Loop Target. "I go back to my old neighborhood to do shopping," says Ms. Gray, 29.

But changes are coming.

The Loop's resurgence prompted extended hours at the Art Institute of Chicago, which will be open until 9 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays during the summer. Evening admission is free on Thursdays year-round and Fridays through Labor Day.

Daytime free hours "fell right in the middle of the workday" and weren't benefiting Chicagoans, says Erin Hogan, director of public affairs. The hope is that downtown residents will pop in after work or before heading to evening activities in Millennium Park or Grant Park. "There's a real desire on our part to take part in the revitalized area," she adds.

Water Tower Place, too, has begun summer hours: Stores are open till 9 p.m. on weekdays. "We want to be accessible to everybody, no matter what their schedules are," says a Marshall Field's spokeswoman. "It's really giving the customer what she wants."

BVictor1 Jun 18, 2006 5:53 PM

Can You Spot the Blight?
Insiders say Mayor Daley wants to re-up the Central Loop TIF, a barely overseen slush fund that sucks tax dollars away from schools and other public services in the name of stimulating development.

bBy Ben Joravsky

June 9, 2006

IN THE PAST few weeks city officials have been leaking their plans to spend hundreds of millions of dollars rehabbing downtown office buildings, building new transit lines, and improving infrastructure throughout the Loop. The word around City Hall is that the flurry of announcements heralds the start of two campaigns: Mayor Daley’s run for reelection and his effort to extend the soon-toexpire Central Loop tax increment financing district to pay for a major portion of the proposed development. It’s a bit of a stretch to say the battle for the downtown TIF, set to end next year, is as crucial to Daley as his reelection, but it’s not that far off. The administration’s addicted to TIFs, which let the mayor keep his grip on city operations and give him a powerful weapon for keeping the City Council in line.

For the record, administration officials say they haven’t decided whether they’ll ask the City Council to extend the Central Loop TIF, which collected about $88 million in property taxes last year. But hardly anyone believes them. As insiders see it, city officials are quietly gauging the accommodations they’ll have to make in order to win support for extending or even expanding the TIF. “If you think Daley’s going to give that up, you’re naive,” says one county official. “He’s just putting on the window dressing to make it look good to the public.”

A TIF caps the property taxes that get paid to entities like the Chicago Park District, the Board of Education, Cook County, and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District for a period of 23 years. So let’s say you were paying $1,000 a year in property taxes when a TIF was created in 1995, with about $500 going to the schools, $70 to the parks, and $73 to the county. That’s roughly what they can expect to get from you, no matter how much your property assessment goes up in the meantime. The extra—the increment, as they call it—goes into the TIF, to be spent at the discretion of the city’s planning department and the local alderman. The idea is to use the funds to spur development within the TIF’s boundaries, theoretically increasing the property tax base in the future.

Once adopted, TIFs practically disappear from public view. They’re not listed in the city budget or even, believe it or not, on your tax bill. The city offers no easy way for you, the citizen, to track a TIF over time to see how much is raised and spent. There’s an annual budget statement for each TIF, but it’s little more than an actuarial statement— money in, money out. And they aren’t posted on the Web. You can only get them from the planning department or at the municipal reference section at the Harold Washington Library Center.

You can’t even get a straight answer as to how much of your property tax bill is going to a TIF. If you live within a TIF district, your tax bill lies. Under the line item for the TIF it will say the fund draws zero dollars. In fact, if your property was built after the TIF was created, all of your tax dollars could be going to it.

Obviously, Daley and the City Council love TIFs—they’ve created more than 100 of them over the last ten years. Last year they diverted about $335 million in property taxes, up from $287.4 million in 2004. By law they’re supposed to be limited to blighted communities that would find it difficult to attract investment without the sweetening offered by a TIF. But given their minimal oversight, they in effect function as private piggy banks to be drawn on when, where, and how Daley and the local aldermen want. There’s TIF money going to upscale projects in gentrifying neighborhoods—the city’s even spending $46 million in TIF dollars to rehab buildings on Loyola University’s north lakefront campus, a public subsidy for a private institution that doesn’t pay property taxes. From the time the planning department officially proposes a TIF to the time the City Council approves one, people who owe their jobs to Daley or to people who owe their jobs to Daley run the process.

The Central Loop is the big daddy of all the TIFs. Originally created in 1984 by Mayor Harold Washington to cover 15 blocks in the north Loop, it was expanded in 1997 to cover pretty much everything between Michigan and Dearborn, running from the Chicago River down to the Congress Parkway. Community activists opposed the expansion, noting that it diverted hundreds of millions in property tax dollars from a public school system in desperate need of cash to a corner of the city that was already booming. “This TIF expansion amounts to a tax grab for downtown developers,” said Ted Thomas, board president of the community group ACORN, at the time.

But Daley prevailed, arguing that the approximately 15 office buildings in the area with occupancy rates below 90 percent qualified the district as blighted. Over the last five years the TIF has diverted at least $350 million in property taxes—$88.1 million last year alone—according to the Cook County Clerk’s annual statement.

And what did we get for all that money? According to studies by Jason Hardy and Art Lyons, researchers at the nonprofit Center for Economic Policy Analysis, it’s been used to finance over $100 million in public works improvements, including streetscaping, street lighting, and repairing sidewalks. About $6.6 million went to convert the Fisher Building at 343 S. Dearborn into luxury rental apartments, another $2.5 million went to convert the Mentor Building at 37 S. State into condos, and about $25 million went to convert or rebuild several hotels including the Hotel Allegro, the Hotel Burnham, the Oxford House, and the Saint George. A big chunk of the money—roughly $60 million—went to rehab or rebuild the Chicago Theatre, the Goodman Theatre, the Oriental Theatre, and the Cadillac Palace Theatre. And of course, the Central Loop TIF was there when Daley needed it most: he plucked $95 million from it to cover cost overruns at Millennium Park.

The city sees all this as signs that the TIF has been a smashing success. “It has been successful in bringing in new business, new retail, new visibility, new commercial, new entertainment to the downtown area,” says Constance Buscemi, a spokeswoman for the planning department.

But this very argument makes it hard to justify extending the TIF another 23 years: if the area’s booming, why is it in need of even more subsidies? “You can’t have it two ways,” Hardy says. “You can’t say the TIF has transformed the Loop and then say that the Loop is still blighted.”

As Hardy points out, the argument for the TIF has always been that it will eventually benefit the schools and parks by expanding the tax base. But if the TIF gets extended it will just keep feeding itself. Already the original 15- block north Loop TIF district is providing less in property taxes than when it was created back in 1984. According to the city, the north Loop tax increment redevelopment plan generated $5,407,659 in 1982. Last year that property generated only about $3.5 million because the assessment remains frozen at $54.5 million and the tax rate has dropped to 6.28 percent.

Don’t expect these issues to be debated by the City Council, which treats TIFs like zoning changes, generally going along with whatever the local alderman wants. As more than one alderman has told me, TIFs are the only game in town. If you want a TIF in your ward you have to be for TIFs in every ward.

Perhaps no one illustrates this point better than Ted Thomas, the ACORN activist who denounced the Central Loop TIF expansion back in the day. Now he says he’ll support its extension. What’s changed? Thanks to the prominence he gained as president of ACORN, he was elected alderman of the 15th Ward in 1999. After several years of representing his southwestside neighborhood on the council, he says he’s seen the light on TIFs. In fact, he proposed one for his ward that the council unanimously approved earlier this year.

“When I was president of ACORN I was looking at things from that point of view,” he says. “Now as an alderman, I’m pushing for a TIF in my ward. If the alderman wants something for his ward, the other aldermen should help him do it. It’s how you get things done.”

Loopy Jun 20, 2006 5:28 PM

Has anyone heard any updates on the Wabash Ave. elevated track cosmetic improvements?

last year, Chicago Loop Alliance announced this project to sandblast and paint the El track structure the same maroon color as the bridges. There was lighting and landscaping improvements as well. It was definitely announced as a summer 2006 project. Nothing happening yet.

Chicago2020 Jun 24, 2006 5:51 PM

Museum-to-park bridge to get public airing

By Noreen S. Ahmed-Ullah
Tribune Staff Reporter
Published June 24, 2006

Plans for Renzo Piano's pedestrian bridge linking the new wing of the Art Institute of Chicago with Millennium Park will be unveiled next month at a public meeting.

The bridge would stretch 620 feet from the southwest corner of the "Great Lawn" to the top floor of the museum's new modern wing. From its landing in Millennium Park, it would gently slope up, reaching about 40 feet above Monroe Street, according to the Art Institute.

Unlike the bulkier BP Bridge that meanders across Columbus Drive, the Art Institute bridge would be made of steel and glass, and be light and airy, said Bob O'Neill, president of the Grant Park Advisory Council, which is organizing the public meeting.

"The views from here are going to be incredible," O'Neill said. "It'll become a Chicago icon, because there are no other opportunities to look at the park, the lake and the skyline and be outdoors and be up that high."

The museum is adding an outdoor sculpture terrace and possibly a dining area with a restaurant at its third floor, officials said. The bridge would open onto this part of the wing, which would serve as a viewing area, O'Neill said.

The bridge and the outdoor terrace area would be open to the public, regardless of whether visitors are visiting the Art Institute.

O'Neill said support columns for the bridge would be hidden by trees within Millennium Park and go over fenced-off service areas where equipment is stored.

Although the Art Institute does not have a final price tag for the bridge, $14 million has been given by a private donor toward construction.

The bridge must be approved by the Chicago Plan Commission, which is scheduled to consider it July 20, O'Neill said.

The Grant Park group's meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. July 10 at Daley Bicentennial Plaza, 337 E. Randolph St.

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