Two members of Evanston’s City Council voiced major reservations this week about a planned new tax increment financing district in the 5th Ward.

Other council members, while seeming generally more supportive, offered a variety of suggestions for modifying plans for what city staff is calling the Five Fifths TIF.

Ald. Clare Kelly (1st), a long-time teacher, argued that the TIF would deprive Evanston schools of tax revenue and said residents would face “a double whammy” of having to pay debt service on money borrowed to fund TIF projects.

The city’s economic development manager, Paul Zalmezak, responded that the city doesn’t have to issue bonds to fund projects in the TIF, unless the Council chooses to do so. Any borrowing for TIF projects typically is repaid from incremental tax revenue generated by rising property values in the district.

The impact on schools is dependent on whether the TIF ultimately raises property values. If it does, the schools benefit from the increase once the TIF expires. If it doesn’t, they are no worse off than they would have been without it.

But Kelly suggested that property values in the district are likely to rise anyway — citing the new assisted living development nearing completion at 1815 Ridge Ave., at the far southern edge of the proposed district.

Ald. Cicely Fleming (9th) asserted that TIFs have often “not been used to benefit the people in the community.”

“I know we have had successful TIFs in Evanston,” Fleming said, but she added that she wanted to see more focus on the rehabilitation of existing buildings rather than promoting private development and new buildings.

“I’m much more concerned with helping the people already in the neighborhood to stay in their homes versus any benefit for a private developer to come in,” Fleming added.

Fleming also said she’d like to see the proposed TIF budget shifted to provide much more support for job training and less for improvements to public facilities. Zalmezak said there is still “plenty of opportunity to adjust the budget.”

Ald. Melissa Wynne (3rd) suggested creating an advisory board for the new TIF, like one created for the Chicago-Main TIF a few years ago to prioritize issues that were most important in the district. “That worked well,” Wynne said.

Ald. Bobby Burns (5th) suggested developing target areas within the planned district on which to focus the city’s efforts.

Ald. Eleanor Revelle (7th) said she was glad to see that Ingraham Park adjacent to the Civic Center won’t be part of any redevelopment project.

Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th) suggested splitting the park and Civic Center into two different land parcels so the park could be excluded from the TIF boundaries while still leaving the Civic Center within it.

Related stories

Five areas eyed for redevelopment in Five Fifths TIF (7/12/21)

5th Ward TIF district plan up for preliminary vote (2/7/21)

New TIF district proposed for 5th Ward (10/29/20)

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.