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New Grants Available For Struggling Shopping Areas On South, West Sides

 A file photo depicts  the Englewood shopping area on Halsted during its heyday.
A file photo depicts the Englewood shopping area on Halsted during its heyday.
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ENGLEWOOD — Hoping to breathe new life into shopping areas on the South, Southwest and West sides, a new program championed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel could send an influx of cash into long-neglected areas of the city.

With the City Council's blessing, the city has earmarked $16 million from Tax Increment Financing districts to spruce up commercial corridors in Austin, Back of the Yards, Bronzeville, Chatham, Englewood, South Shore, West Humboldt Park and West Pullman.

"Neighborhood businesses are the heart of Chicago's neighborhoods and economy," Emanuel said in a statement. "This initiative will strengthen the retail corridors that are economic and cultural hubs for our communities, and in the process create new jobs and amenities in neighborhoods that need more private investment."

TIF districts capture all growth in the property tax base in a designated area for a set period of time, usually 20 years or more, and divert it into a special fund for projects designed to spur redevelopment and eradicate blight.

New and existing businesses will be able to apply for $9 million in grants. The grants — up to $250,000 to cover 75 percent of a project's cost — are intended to spruce up commercial buildings with new roofs, facades, plumbing, electrical, heating and cooling systems.

The city plans to use the remaining $7 million to rebuild the neighborhoods, including the rehabilitation of "distressed" commercial buildings. The effort also envisions pop-up retail spaces, including "BoomBoxes," to help entrepreneurs test new business concepts.

The city expects the effort to create 650 new jobs as well as 2,000 construction jobs.

As Emanuel weighs whether to run for a third term in office, efforts like this one — dubbed the Retail Thrive Zone program by his office — could help him combat criticism that he favored Downtown and let the city's neighborhoods languish.

Emanuel's office announced Thursday the city had received 580 applications for about $4 million in business and development grants funded by fees paid by Downtown developers to invest in projects on the South, Southwest and West sides.

The first grants from the Neighborhood Opportunity Fund will be awarded in June, the mayor's office said.