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Lincoln Park, Old Town

City Wants New TIF District To Support Lincoln Yards But Alderman Challenges Move

Lincoln Park Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) wants to see the public benefit. "We have been given no firm plan, even though we know that one exists," she said.

The massive Lincoln Yards plan would bring a new bridge to Armitage.
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LINCOLN PARK —  As city officials explore the possibility of carving out a new tax increment-financing (TIF) district to help developer Sterling Bay bring its $5 billion vision of Lincoln Yards to fruition, one Lincoln Park alderman is challenging the need for it. 

“Taxpayers would fund infrastructure needs, such as roads and bridges, for Lincoln Yards through TIF dollars. Yet legally, a TIF is only permissible if there is a ‘public benefit,’ so we must understand whether these infrastructure needs benefit all Chicagoans and not just Sterling Bay — including true traffic mitigation and a public park,” Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) wrote in a recent newsletter Lincoln Park residents. 

A public meeting hosted by the city planners to discuss the proposed new Cortland/Clybourn TIF district is set for 6 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 14 at Renew Chicago Church, 1001 N. Crosby St. 

TIF districts have become an increasingly hot-button issue: Opponents of the financing tool claim that TIFs are little more than “slush funds” designed to line the pockets of political cronies; proponents argue that TIFs goose economic development in areas where it wouldn’t otherwise occur.

According to a letter and map sent to residents on Oct. 30 by the city’s Department of Planning and Development Commissioner David Reifman, the boundaries of the proposed Cortland/Clybourn TIF District would run along the west and east sides of the North Branch Corridor, including parts of the proposed Lincoln Yards development and General Iron.

Slated to move out by 2020, the General Iron scrap metal facility is located along prime riverfront land that Smith and advocates have been wanting to see the city buy and turn into a North Branch park and preserve. 

The letter from Reifman does not mention Lincoln Yards or Sterling Bay, but explains that a TIF district is a geographic area that “generates funding for community improvement projects within its boundaries.” 

Credit: Courtesy of Ald. Michele Smith (43rd)
A proposed map of a new tax increment financing district, marked by heavy black dashed lines.

On Thursday, Smith said “it’s a given that there will need be transportation improvements” for Lincoln Yards, considering “the incredible congestion” in the community already there and the influx of thousands of possible new residents.

Smith said transportation improvements, such as building a new Armitage Avenue bridge, are not enough to justify a TIF.

“Taxpayers deserve a lasting public benefit, not just private. Before we are to approve this district, the taxpayers in the surrounding community are entitled and deserve to know what is the plan. We have been given no firm plan, even though we know that one exists,” Smith said. 

Ahead of Wednesday’s meeting, Smith warned residents that the city plans to only discuss TIF eligibility and boundaries at the upcoming meeting. “However, without revealing planned uses of TIF funds, the public cannot judge whether this is a proper use of taxpayer dollars. I urge you to attend this meeting,” Smith told residents. 

As a primer for the Cortland/Clybourn TIF meeting next week, Smith and the Ranch Triangle Association plan to host a community meeting from 6:30-9 p.m. Thursday at St. Teresa of Avila Church, 1037 W. Armitage Ave. in Lincoln Park. 

“Please learn more about the TIF, the transitway [planned for Kingsbury Street], and how these issues connect with the Lincoln Yards plan. See how development pressures, congestion and density can be balanced with quality of life and property value issues. I urge you to please attend to gain critical knowledge for upcoming public meetings,” Smith said in her newsletter.