JEFFERSON PARK — Business owners in Jefferson Park will decide in the coming months whether their taxes should go up to fund an effort to fill empty storefronts and spruce up the commercial district along Lawrence and Milwaukee avenues.
The Jefferson Park Chamber of Commerce Thursday asked business owners and residents to fill out an online survey to determine whether there is a need for a Special Service Area in the Jefferson Park Business District.
If 20 percent of business owners sign a letter of support, property taxes would rise on commercial properties on Milwaukee Avenue from Montrose Avenue to the Kennedy Expy. and on Lawrence Avenue from Austin Avenue to the Kennedy, said Amie Zander, executive director of the chamber.
"It is a great tool," Zander said. "It could make a huge difference."
The survey will help the chamber — with the help of a consultant and an advisory committee — determine what the community wants to see happen in Jefferson Park — and what businesses would be willing to foot the bill for with higher taxes, Zander said.
Most Chicago businesses in Special Service Areas see their tax bills rise by several hundred dollars a year based on the assessed value of their property, records show. The amount of any tax increase for Jefferson Park businesses would be based on the budget crafted by the committee and endorsed by business owners, Zander said.
"I see the fact that there are so many vacant storefronts as the biggest problem," Zander said, adding that a recent survey found 110 empty stores throughout Jefferson Park.
The Special Service Area could fund efforts to attract new businesses by hiring real estate brokers to market the empty storefronts as well as Jefferson Park as a great neighborhood to open a business, Zander said.
In addition, the fund could be used to spruce up the business district and make it more welcoming to shoppers, Zander said.
The area around the Jefferson Park Transit Center — which will undergo a $25 million renovation next year — and the viaduct at the Kennedy could also use some attention, Zander said.
Two public meetings on the proposal will be held in May before an official proposal is submitted to city officials. The tax increase, which would last for 10 years, must be approved by the Chicago City Council.
"It is a totally transparent process," Zander said.
Zander, who led the West Ridge Chamber of Commerce before joining the Jefferson Park chamber earlier this year, said the Special Service Area she helped establish in that neighborhood was effective in helping businesses keep the business district clean and inviting to shoppers.
Owen Brugh, chief of staff to Ald. John Arena (45th), said the alderman would support whatever the property owners decide.
A Special Service Area in the Six Corners Shopping District helped the Six Corners Association attract more than two-dozen new businesses and begin to reverse decades of decline, Brugh said.
The Sauganash Chamber of Commerce used $20,000 from the money generated by its Special Service Area to light up businesses along the Edens Expressway during the holiday shopping season.
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