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Evanston aldermen Monday gave final approval to a tax increment financing district for the Evanston Plaza shopping center amid concerns about the long-term future of its anchor tenant, a Dominick’s supermarket.

The aldermen voted 6-2 for the TIF, with Aldermen Don Wilson, 4th Ward, and Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, voting against the plan. Another opponent of the TIF, Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, was absent from the meeting.

The City Council also approved a proposal from City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz giving him authority to negotiate with the plaza’s owners for a package of improvements to the center totalling up to $2 million over the next seven years.

The money would be borrowed, with the money to be paid back from anticipated tax revenue from the TIF

Bobkiewicz said the city needs to think about both short-term and long-term plans for the plaza’s future.

The Dominick’s lease runs out in 2020, and Bobkiewicz said the chain has been shrinking in the Chicago area and has developed a pattern of not renewing leases when they expire.

He said that when city officials reached out to the chain’s real estate office, located in Calgary, Alberta, they found no interest from the company in cooperating to upgrade the plaza.

After the short-term borrowing, Bobkiewicz said, he wants to have the TIF in place, generating revenue, that can be used to pay for future projects, mostly from cash funds on hand.

Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, said she’s worried about the potential for a future “food desert” on the west side.

Aldeman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward said she’d like to retain the store, perhaps in a new format. “I hope their arrogant response doesn’t turn us off to their tenure there,” Rainey added.

Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward said she was disappointed in the company’s response, “but we have to move ahead. We need something there that will bring more foot traffic and families.”

Wilson said the shopping center is important to him, too, that he’s there all the time and wants it to succeed.

But he said he was disappointed that the city doesn’t have a more specific redevelopment plan.

He said the TIF “amounts to a cash stream for a private property owner and doesn’t assure that residents will have anything to say about it.”

The immediate $2 million in improvements are things the property owner, who acquired the plaza at a discount at an auction, should be covering, Wilson added.

Tendam said he’s not impressed with the owner’s plans for the center — nothing “that would take the project beyond just a viable center — to make it what the vision of the neighborhood is.”

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, voted to approve the TIF, but joined Tendam and Wilson in opposing the plan for $2 million in short-term spending on improvements.

The plaza, on the southwest corner of Dempster Street and Dodge Avenue, is currently about half vacant.

City officials project that the TIF will generate more than $23 million in property tax revenue to be spend on development efforts during its planned 23-year life.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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