Skeptics pounce on theater TIF plan


Two aldermen skeptical of tax increment financing districts raised questions Thursday evening about a not-yet-introduced proposal to create such a district to help finance a downtown Evanston center for the arts.

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, who as chair of the city’s Economic Development Committee pulled a discussion of the TIF concept from from last month’s committee agenda, appeared at a ward meeting called by Alderman Brian Miller, 9th Ward, at the Levy Center.

Miller described the planned boundaries of the TIF as running from the Noyes Street CTA station on the north to as far south as Grove Street and said it would generally run from Sherman Avenue on the east to Ridge Avenue on the west.

“Personally I’m against TIFs in most regards,” Miller said. “If we have development happening, we don’t need to be spurring it with tax dollars.”

Northlight Theatre, the performing arts group now based in Skokie that was founded in Evanston over 40 years ago, has been identified as the potential anchor tenant for the arts center.

Land on the southeast corner of Benson Avenue and Clark Street, which Second Baptist Church has an option to purchase, has been identified as the potential site for a building that would have the performing arts center in its base and would be topped by an office or residential tower.

But for a project that has an estimated price tag of $37 million, no plan to fully finance it has yet been developed.

Tax increment financing districts allow a municipality to capture any increase in property taxes generated by rising property values in a district and use the funds to spur further development in the area.

The schools and other taxing bodies that normally share in property tax revenue have to wait until the 23-year life of the district ends to gain a share of that increased revenue stream.

Alderman Fiske, who has frequently voted against major development projects, said the new TIF would include “wide swaths of residential land” mostly in the 5th Ward.

“The area includes a large number of really affordable houses, and a lot of student dwellings owned by landlords,” Fiske said. “A lot of people are really concerned about what a TIF would mean. It’s inviting in development, and that makes people really uncomfortable.”

While TIF districts have been controversial in many communities, they have generally been successful in spurring development in Evanston, most notably in the area along Maple Avenue that’s anchored by the Century Theatre movie theater complex.

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