Quantcast

TIF end offers lifeline to schools

The closure of Evanston’s Downtown II tax increment finance district provides a tremendous boost to Evanston’s school districts in tough budget times.

That’s what Evanston Township High School Finance Director Bill Stafford told a joint board of review meeting Thursday.

The closure of Evanston’s Downtown II tax increment finance district provides a tremendous boost to Evanston’s school districts in tough budget times.

That’s what Evanston Township High School Finance Director Bill Stafford told a joint board of review meeting Thursday.

Stafford, who was the city’s finance director during much of the TIF’s life, said that as a result of new development during the life of the TIF, each of the community’s two school districts will now see $1.5 million to $2 million in additional revenue each year.

ETHS and Evanston/Skokie School District 65 have been hit with a major budget squeeze this year. The schools, which under state tax cap rules generallly get a 1.5 to 3 percent annual increase in revenue based on increases in the consumer price index, are receiving only a 0.1 percent increase this year because of the recession.

The new revenue from the TIF district’s closure will "tremendously assist our ability to deal with our budget issues," Stafford said. "Without this we would be in a much, much different position."

He said the timing of the revenue increase was "amazing" given its confluence with the downturn in the general economhy.

"We’re very thankful," Stafford said, "This is what we talk about in terms of adding to the economic base of the community."

The Downtown II TIF, which includes the area along Maple Avenue that houses the Century Theatre Complex, the Optima Views condo tower, the Hilton Garden Inn and the Maple Avenue parking garage has been by far the most successful of the city’s six tax increment financing districts.

Over its 23-year life property in the district went from having an assessed value of $2 million to to $137 million.

The Maple Avenue garage is now fully paid for, and most of the remaining surplus in the TIF district fund has been used to reduce the debt on the new Sherman Plaza garage.

The joint review board, composed of representatives of all the taxing bodies affected by the city’s TIF districts, meets annually to review their performance.

During Thursday’s session no objections were raised to the city’s stewardship of any of the districts.

The state tax increment finance district law allows a municipality to capture all of the incremental tax revenue generated with a district it creates for 23 years and use that revenue to stimulate economic development in the district.

The city’s other TIF districts are:

Howard-Hartrey

Established in 1992, this district was used to transform the site of a largely vacant Bell & Howell warehouse into the shopping center that now houses Target, Jewel and other big-box stores. City officials estimate that after it closes it will spin off $1.8 million in incremental tax revenue for the other taxing districts annually starting in 2017.

Southwest

This district, south of Main Street and west of Pitner on the city’s west side, includes the Sam’s Club, which Planning Director Dennis Marino describes as "a huge sales tax generator" which also tends to do better in a down economy. Assistant City Manager Marty Lyons said it is forecast to provide about $870,000 in tax revenue to the other taxing bodies starting in 2015.

Washington National

This district, which includes the blocks housing the Whole Foods store and Sherman Plaza developments downtown, played a key role in securing both those new projects.

The Whole Foods store and adjacent Park Evanston apartment tower sit on land that once was the headquarters of the Washington National Insurance Company. The company moved to Lincolnshire in the 1990s, leaving a white-elephant of an office building that eventually had to be demolished.

Lyons said that if there is no further development in the district, it could yield the other taxing bodies $7.3 million in incremental revenue a year. The district also includes the proposed site of the 708 Church St. condo tower, which has been approved by the city but is stalled because of difficulty financing new development projects during the recession. Marino said occupancy at the Sherman Plaza condo development has now reached about 90 percent.

Howard-Ridge

This district includes property on the north side of Howard Street from the CTA yards to Ridge Avenue.

The first major new development in this district is the 17-story Skyline at Evanston rental apartment building. Marino said it is now about 70 percent leased — a lower level than anticipated, slowed by the slumping economy.

He said the city hopes the tower, combined with new development on the Chicago side of Howard street, will gradually increase new investment further west toward Ridge Avenue.

West Evanston

The city’s newest TIF district includes property running along the old Mayfair rail spur running from Simpson Street south to Greenleaf Street.

The area has seen a modest amount of new development since the TIF’s start, including the Church Street Village townhomes and the conversion of a factory building on Greenwood Street to live-work lofts.

Neither of those developments was financially assisted by the TIF, Marino said. The city, he said, is currently working to design streetscape improvements for the Dodge Avenue and Church Street corridors through the district.

Editors’ Picks