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Old Posted Jul 12, 2006, 8:30 AM
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Another view on the Lasalle St. TIF district from yesterday's Sun Times

City outlines La Salle Street TIF district

July 11, 2006
BY DAVID ROEDER Business Reporter Advertisement

City officials Tuesday issued the first details, including a map, of a new downtown taxing district designed to subsidize commercial growth and public improvements, with a focus on La Salle Street.

“I see this as the traditional commercial heart of the city,’’ planning Commissioner Lori Healey said of the proposed tax-increment financing district. If approved, the so-called TIF district would finance a range of projects and help owners of aging office buildings refurbish to attract more companies, she said.

But leaders of key downtown business groups, representing those who might benefit from TIF funding, said they oppose the proposal because the city, not their members, would decide how to spend the proceeds. In a rare break with City Hall, the groups said the TIF should be governed by a committee representing the businesses and property owners.

“We want self-governance for the stakeholders here,’’ said Bill Bornhoff, vice president and director of the Chicago Development Council, which represents downtown builders.

With a similar reaction was Michael Cornicelli, director of government affairs for the Buildings Owners and Managers Association of Chicago. “We need the planning for this to be from the ground up, not the top down,” he said. “When it comes to TIFs, the city has always done things from the top down.”

The amount of money at stake could be huge, judging from the city’s record with downtown TIFs. The La Salle-based TIF could generate $550 million over its statutory 23-year life, city officials estimated.

Healey said she saw no need for a business committee with veto power over spending plans. “We have it in place already relatively unofficially,” she said, explaining that business lobbyists are constantly consulted on planning issues.

The proposed district covers blocks primarily between Clark and Canal, Randolph south to Van Buren. A section of Wacker Drive with new office towers was kept out of the district, as were eastern parts of the Loop that already have their own TIF coverage.

La Salle is considered the heart because it has old office buildings that have lost tenants to Wacker Drive. The district includes both sides of La Salle from just north of Lake to Van Buren.

Sears Tower is in the district, as is City Hall itself and a section of Randolph near Wacker where developer John Buck harbors plans for a new skyscraper.

His plan could be eligible for TIF assistance,
but Healey said the city would emphasize help for renovations of “older buildings that face challenges in the marketplace.”

Funding also could be set aside to create a park or even a school to serve downtown’s growing population, she said.

TIFs do not raise taxes, but redirect them away from schools and other local governments. A baseline of tax receipts is established at the start, and every increase each year is diverted to an account that can fund private development or public works.

Mayor Daley has described TIFs as his only economic development tool. The Central Loop TIF, parts of which date from 1984, generated $87.7 million for subsidies in 2004, the last year for which results have been published. Its yearly windfall was used to bail out Millennium Park.

Since taking office in 1989, Daley has increased the number of TIFs from 11 to more than 140. Critics have said TIFs are overused, help development that would have occurred anyway, cheat schools and give City Hall a money pot with little accountability.

Plans for what would be called the La Salle Central TIF were introduced Tuesday to the Community Development Commission, which set a public hearing Sept. 12. The commission will then forward its recommendation on the TIF to the City Council, which has the final call.

Healey said the effectiveness of TIFs is proven, and she expects no modifications from the public input.

Bornhoff said the city is acting as if it has all the answers, but he said his criticism was directed at the bureaucrats and not Daley. “We want to execute something that’s meaningful in the spirit of what he’s trying to do,” Bornhoff said.

droeder@suntimes.com
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If this new TIF district will help Buck get his new tower off the ground then its worth it IMO
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