Logan Square Special Service Area Gets Renewed Push

By Victoria Johnson on January 31, 2013 10:33am 

LOGAN SQUARE — Taxes may go up for property owners along stretches of Milwaukee and Fullerton avenues, but supporters of a new Special Service Area there say the benefits would far outweigh the costs.

A Special Service Area is a designated commercial district in which property owners pay a higher tax rate in exchange for extra city services, including sidewalk cleaning, bike racks and additional security.

Currently, there are 44 Special Service Areas across the city, including shopping and restaurant districts in Andersonville, Lincoln Park and more close by in Wicker Park and Bucktown.

The idea for an SSA in Logan Square came about in the summer of 2008, after the city commissioned a study on the stretch of Milwaukee Avenue between Western and California avenues. Then Ald. Manny Flores (1st) saw possibilities for growth in the area and wanted to get ideas on how to spur that growth.

The main recommendation to come out of the study was to create a Special Service Area there, but then the economy tanked and supporters thought it unwise to try to stick property owners with a tax hike.

"It just didn't seem to us something that we wanted to be pushing at that point," said Paul Levin, executive director of the Logan Square Chamber of Commerce.

As the economy shows signs of improvement, however, the Chamber is once again hoping to get property owners behind the SSA, the details of which still have to be worked out, such as what services are needed and exactly how much taxes will go up.

The proposed area includes that stretch of Milwaukee Avenue, but extended up to Logan Boulevard to include the square and a bit of Kedzie Avenue. It also would include the stretch of Fullerton Avenue between Milwaukee and Western avenues, and parts of the commercial district on Western Avenue north of Fullerton Avenue as well as nearby on parts of Elston Avenue.

The extra tax among most other SSAs across the city falls between .2 and .5 percent, but that number would depend on what an advisory board decides. The board has yet to be formed.

 Map of the proposed Logan Square Special Service Area.
Map of the proposed Logan Square Special Service Area.
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Logan Square Chamber of Commerce

With an average property assessment in the proposed SSA of $228,000, according to a chamber analysis, property taxes would go up around $684 a year at a 0.3 percent rate, but for some property owners, the hike could reach well into the thousands.

Eddie Carranza, owner of the Congress Theater, is one of those property owners that could be hit with a tax hike of a several thousand dollars.

"We're kind of just waiting to see what that amount is," Carranza said. "I'd just like to see more data before I know if I support it or don't support it."

Logan Hardware owner Jim Zespy echoed Carranza, adding that he thinks it could be beneficial for the area, but wants to see how things play out.

"Anytime you're moving that kind of money around, there can be problems of differences of opinions on how to spend it," Zespy said. "Everybody should be a little skeptical when people come knocking asking for more money."

In these early stages, the Chamber is still talking to property owners to find out what kind of services they want and looking for business and community leaders to join the advisory board.

Next, they'll have to create a draft of that plan, send an informational mailing to all property owners and ultimately convince the City Council to pass an ordinance to establish the SSA.

Some SSAs opt for nothing more than a bit of added security and graffiti removal, while others may want holiday decorations, public art installations and facade improvement. The trick is to find the services that would make both business and residential property owners happy.

If the SSA funds were used to clean up the neighborhood — remove old posters, replace grills around trees, keep the sidewalks clean, etc. — Levin thinks it would bring more people to the neighborhood to just shop or eat out.

"Most people prefer a place that's neat, clean and visually more attractive," he said. "I think the great majority of [property owners] agree that they see what we see, which is a diminution of services, and that the services need to be confirmed or expanded, just to be competitive."

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