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City's 'Rush' For Lincoln Park TIF Cash Gives Alderman 'Grave Concerns'

By Mina Bloom | September 14, 2016 12:32pm
 Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) opposes the transit TIF district.
Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) opposes the transit TIF district.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

LINCOLN PARK — Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) said she does not support the creation of a Transit Tax Increment Finance (TIF) district to help fund the first phase of the Red-Purple line modernization project, which includes overhauling four CTA stations and building the controversial Belmont station flyover —  none of which are in Lincoln Park.

Smith said it's unclear how the money generated from the TIF is "really going to be spent," and how the loan will be paid off. She also fears Lincoln Park residents who are already "burdened" with high property taxes could see even more of an increase without being able to reap the benefits of the project.

"It was created without local input and it doesn't fund improvements in our neighborhood," Smith said at a public meeting, held at DePaul University's Sullivan Athletic Center, 2323 N. Sheffield Ave., Tuesday evening. 

"I don't know how much money is going to be needed to pay off this loan. It is very concerning to come to a public meeting and not have the basic information on how much money per year is needed, money that could've been used for other purposes for which our property taxes are imposed and have just been raised."

She went on, saying, "As much as I support the CTA, the rush to get this money generates grave concerns in creating what what would be the very first TIF in our ward."

After the meeting, Smith said she thinks the map should be redrawn so as not to include Lincoln Park.

"Most TIFs are drawn in the area that's going to be a benefit. We're not a benefit and we have our own needs," she said in an interview.

More than 300 people attended the public meeting, which was held to help explain and get feedback on the transit TIF district, which was designed to help fund the first phase of the two-part $1.2 billion modernization project.

Phase one includes overhauling the deteriorating Lawrence, Argyle, Berwyn and Bryn Mawr stations and building the Belmont station flyover — all in an effort to increase capacity and make stations more accessible.

By implementing the transit TIF district, the city and the CTA will be able to raise half of the money needed for the big-ticket renovations. The federal government will then match the remaining amount. It will not affect Chicago Public Schools' budget, which is excluded from the transit TIF under state legislation.

City and CTA leaders say the project would not be possible without financial help from the federal government.

More than 300 people attended the public meeting. [DNAinfo/Mina Bloom]

"Without TIF funds, CTA's ability to deliver the Red-Purple line modernization project ... would be compromised," said Carol Morey, the CTA's chief planning officer.

The transit TIF legislation was passed as part of a compromise on the state's stopgap budget and an education funding bill.

The measure gives Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the City Council discretion to create TIF districts within one mile of the 46 miles of CTA rail lines running through the city. The districts "would siphon off 80 percent of property tax values" within its borders for the major transit projects, and could remain in place for 35 years, the Tribune said.

At the meeting, Steve Friedman of SB Friedman Development Advisers said funds generated from the TIF district will only go toward phase one of the Red-Purple line modernization project.

He said the tax rate for impacted homes will remain the same. No property will be in two TIF districts, and some properties may be removed from an existing TIF district and placed into the transit district because of "continuity issues."

"I've been known to say if you like the way that your property is assessed now, you'll like it after the transit TIF is created. And if you don't like it, you still won't like it," Friedman said. 

Ald. James Cappleman (46th) voiced some skepticism without opposing the district.

"I don't always trust TIFs. I try to be cautious of them. I've seen them work at the same time. The Wilson Yard TIF has been incredible," he said. "I want to make sure that TIF is the way to go, rather than using bonds."

Cappleman, along with other residents, urged officials to prioritize overhauling the Sheridan station, which sees many wheelchair-bound travelers.

"The Sheridan 'L' stop ... Many of the people using the stop rely on wheelchairs. I want to make sure the Sheridan stop becomes ADA compliant," Cappleman said.

Morey said the Sheridan station will be renovated in the future, but was too complicated to renovate during phase one.

"There's a reason why these four stations were prioritized," Morey said. "These four represent the largest gap in accessibility on the Red line."

Another hot-button issue is the controversial Belmont station flyover. Several residents at the meeting voiced strong disapproval of the project, saying it's too expensive and will negatively impact Lakeview, which is facing a "crime epidemic."

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