Osco, Church Street and Sherman Avenue

A room filled largely with aldermanic candidates got a briefing on Evanston’s tax increment financing districts Wednesday night at the Levy Center.

In response to claims by some candidates that TIFs are bad for Evanston, city staff provided a lengthy report explaining the TIF process and how it’s worked out so far.

One of the more dramatic images in the slide-show presentation was a picture taken by city staffers six years and one week ago today. It shows the west side of Sherman Avenue from Church Street south almost to Grove Street.

The site is part of the Washington National TIF, one of six such districts in Evanston.

The old Osco drug store is in the foreground, with the old city parking garage south of it. The south end of the block, facing Davis, has already been demolished in preparation for construction of Sherman Plaza. In the background, the Optima Towers and Rotary International high rises are visible.

There’s no sure indication of the time of day when the photo was taken, but from the shadow on the garage it appears to be late morning. Some metered parking spaces are empty and we can see only two pedestrians standing outside the entrance to the Osco.

A new picture, taken about 1 p.m. today from roughly the same spot, shows the dramatic change in the scene. The Barnes & Noble store dominates the foreground. The Sherman Plaza condo tower fills the center of the frame, with the new city garage tucked behind it on the upper right.

The on-street parking spaces are filled, and at least a dozen pedestrians are visible on the street.

By the numbers, the city staff says, equalized assessed valuation of property in the Washington National TIF district that includes the Sherman Plaza block has increased 257 percent since the TIF’s establishment in 1994 from $25.7 million then to $91.9 million in 2007.

That compares to a 174 percent increase in assessed valuations across the city as a whole during that time.

The boundaries of the two TIFs located downtown. In green, the city’s first TIF, called Downtown II. In purple, the city’s fourth TIF, called Washington National.

The Washington National TIF area also includes the Park Evanston rental apartment tower and Whole Foods Market at Church Street and Chicago Avenue, which replaced the vacant Washington National Insurance building.

And it has potential for further increase in value if the proposed Fountain Square tower project is given final approval by the City Council next week and is ultimately built, despite the soft real estate market.

But the Washington National TIF is only in the middle of the pack among the city’s TIF districts in terms of the percentage increase in property values during its life.

It started with much higher initial property values than the city’s first TIF district formed in 1985 and centered on the underdeveloped triangle of land between Evanston’s two rail lines.

An aerial view of downtown Evanston in the 1970s looking west, showing the city incinerator and surface parking lots between the rail lines.

Called the Downtown II TIF. That district initially had only a third of its developable land on the tax roles — ownership of the rest was split between the city and Northwestern University.

As former Assistant City Manager Judy Aiello recalled at the meeting, it housed the city incinerator and public works yards, and a variety of similar uses for the university.

That TIF district, closed out late last year after its 23-year life, saw assessed valuations increase 7374 percent — from $1.8 million in 1985 to $137 million in 2007.

During that period, the overall gain in taxable values across the city has been 372 percent

Major developments in the Downtown II TIF area include the Century Theatre complex and the Optima Views condo tower.

Related link

TIF Workshop presentation 3/18/09 (3.2MB .pdf)

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Thank you for putting this
    Thank you for putting this up. How could anyone want that block back, or that type of downtown? Downtown Evanston is alive with people thanks to the master plan and our aldermen’s forward thinking.
    Where would we be if the anti-development crowd had been able to stop all of this?

    1. I miss the Osco…the Historic Osco
      Anonymous asks:
      “How could anyone want that block back, or that type of downtown? Downtown Evanston is alive with people thanks to the master plan and our aldermen’s forward thinking.”

      It depends on your value system.

      If you are a NIMBY, the most important things are:
      1. Plentiful street parking.
      2. Low-rise buildings and low density
      3. Not too many people, especially outsiders.

      So, while anyone with an enquiring mind would clearly prefer the newer picture, with the Sherman Plaza, I think that most NIMBYs would like the old version.

      The NIMBY would look at the Sherman Plaza photo and say:
      1. Where can I park my car?
      2. There is a tall building! I hate tall buildings.
      3. Look at all of those people! They are causing traffic jams, polluting the air, and taking my parking meter spots.
      4. A condo? Those condo residents probably have a lot of kids, so they are a burden on the school system. Or if they don’t have kids, then they won’t support our school system. I don’t like them.
      5. Where did the Osco go? I need to pick up medications after visiting my therapist at 708 Church. I need convenient street level parking and an Osco.

      1. Labels
        Is it possible for us to stop using labels in an effort to see groups as people? The acronym NIMBY is bantered about on this site so often that I could be very wealthy if I had a dollar for every time I saw it typed out.
        1. I am not a NIMBY.
        2. I do believe in responsible development.
        3. I am against labels.
        4. My goal in life is not to judge, but to learn.

    2. Incinerator and surface parking lots
      The black and white picture of Evanston before the condo boom really puts things in perspective.

      When we hear the old-timers talk about how charming old Evanston was, and how condos and tall buildings have ‘ruined’ downtown…just look at that picture. Downtown Evanston really was a dump before people like me started moving here. All of you lifelong residents really let the town fall apart…maybe you were busy tending the elm trees, arguing about streetlamps, or visiting Chuckie Dawes’ house.
      There is nothing charming or unique about having “the city incinerator and surface parking lots between the rail lines” in downtown.

      I wonder, were there any “Save Evanston – Keep the Incinerator” lawnsigns? Now all of that charm and uniqueness has been replaced by a theater and a Hilton Garden Inn.

      1. ‘People like me’
        Who, exactly, are these “people like you”? Are they:

        -people who post anonymously on blogs saying how awesome they are?

        -people who leveraged themselves like crazy to get a posh condo in a swank new building and are now 2 months behind on the mortgage with a place worth half what they paid? (you’re welcome for my tax dollars, you bailout brat)

        -people who don’t want to analyze what other development proposals might have helped grow the local economy without dropping an eyesore like that condo tower into the middle of downtown?

        As you find out just what increased condo supply does to property values in an economy this devoid of demand, I wish you good luck.

  2. Evanston’s TIFs are not the issue, its how they were managed!
    I attended the meeting, it was a nice overview, by Ms. Aiello. I do not doubt they have help development in the condo market.

    But I also think the oversite by our council was not good, ofcourse what that could be said for alot of things they are suppose to be watching. ( pensions )

    The most troubling comment I heard was Ms, Aiello claimed everyone knew in the downtown TIF II that the city had exchange land with NU. The land the city exchanged was enviromental contamediated. The city agreed if NU every would develop the property the city would clean the site. The TIF could be long gone and future taxpayers could foot an expensive bill.

    Also I seem to recall the city would pay consultants to tell them it was legal to use TIF funds a certain way – that is to pay operational costs versus capital – here again another guestionable practice.

    Also all expenses under $10,000 do not have to be reported in the TIF documents – thus I suspect others funds were diverted.

    I suspect there are many thing here, that we will never know.

    But finally the most interesting comment of all – is they now are claiming the TIF were never done to lower our taxes, that they were done to not keep our taxes from going through the roof! That was also interesting since these council members for all these years have been claiming economy development was going to save us, ( wait till next year when we see a 10% property tax increase along with a 10% water bill increase )

  3. TIF Seminar: A Very Well Done Workshop – Constructive Dialogs
    I attended the TIF seminar on Thursday night and must honestly say that it far exceeded my expectations. I have e-mailed my thanks to Ald. Hansen and Ald. Rainey for the amount of detailed effort put in to this workshop. There were packets, name tags and a slde show. Also, a great big thanks to Judy Aiello for coming out of retirement for 2 plus hours to provide her talents, professionalism and most importantly her institutional memory. Ald. Holmes, who also attended, added valuable input. Also, more valuable input was provided by Leslie Murphy, Morris Robinson and Dennis Marino. I’d also like to thank Marty Lyons for his help in answering questions for me over the last month. Easily, the best and most thorough COE workshop I’ve ever attended.

    My often misunderstood comments about TIF’s at Citizen Comment before the City Council or during the budget workshops, could not be dealt with properly within the 3-5 minute formats. As I said in my e-mail thanking the alderman and city staff, I look forward to a more constructive dialog with the new Council on TIF’s and sales tax rebates. I believe there are usable surpluses in the TIFs that can be used to help the City’s budget crisis (fire & police pensions etc.). I also believe that the sales tax rebates used for the Oakton & Asbury grocery (1 million over 9 years) and elsewhere are inequitable, patently unfair to other businesses that don’t receive such governmental generosity and another example of “privatizing profit- socializing risk/loss at taxpayer expense”. Far too much of that has gone on in Washington, Springfield and yes, our Evanston.

    My biggest regret Thursday night was only seeing City staff, elected officials, candidates seeking office and the citizens that I see at most Council meetings. It is very frustrating to not see more citizens involved, though just trying to keep a job and maintain the ability to afford our federal, state and local taxes, may crowd out any time to put towards civic involvement. As Trish Stieglitz and Mary Rosinski from Central Street Neighbors put the question so well Thursday night: Where did the money go from the TIFs? They also stated that a lot of citizens perceive that their taxes will go down or at least not up at the expiration of a 23 year TIF. Ald. Holmes provided some valuable input, after I posed a question of the cost/benefit result to the taxpayers after 23 years of the Downtown II TIF, she suggested that we find the hard data for all the taxing bodies that raised taxes over the 23 year TIF compared to the tax dollars available at the expiration of that TIF available to all the taxing bodies. I heartily agree! My concern is that the data will show a larger government that taxed for 23 years,when necessary, due to no access to TIF revenue, then already spent the 9 million plus coming in from the Downtown II TIF upon expiration annually ( by growing the budgets each year ) and finally ( horrifically) will seek tax increases going forward after the April 7th election. I shall make an attempt to gather such data for the benefit of all.

    Once again, my thanks to all for shining some light on the darkest and most complex area of the City budget.

    Kevin O’Connor
    7th Ward Aldemanic Candidate

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