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Pilsen, Little Village, Back of the Yards

West Loop Building Boom Pushes Leaders To Consider A New Neighborhood Tax, But Residents Are Leery

A proposal to create a new Special Service Area In Fulton Market was scaled back after heat from residents.

West Loop business owners and residents attend a community meeting about the proposed Fulton Market SSA District.
Mauricio Peña/ Block Club Chicago
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WEST LOOP — Proponents of a special tax for the Fulton Market area have cut back on the size of the proposed district to answer concerns that too many residents would be burdened by a new tax.

After a pair of community meetings where residents raised questions about a proposed Special Service Area (SSA) that pulls from commercial and residential property owners, the West Loop Community Organization revised the boundaries to include fewer residential property owners in the district.

Carla Agostinelli, executive director of the West Loop Community Organization that aims to manage the Fulton Market Special Service Area, said the proposed boundaries had been revised to “alleviate the burden on residential property owners.”

During a recent meeting at Revel Fulton Market, 1215 W. Fulton Market, the organization presented a draft proposal to create the SSA. As part of the proposal, the organization outlined potential uses for the funds such as addressing safety concerns through surveillance cameras, adding lights along Lake Street, public way improvements and providing extra snow removal services.

Agostinelli said the Special Service Area would be an “economic development tool to bring resolutions” to safety, trash and infrastructure concerns.

“After many years of watching the rapid growth in the community, [and] understanding the strains the city is under in providing additional resources…. it became evident that an SSA was the way to go,” Agostinelli said.

The group started the process 18 months ago and held four formal advisory committee meetings on the matter.

The 19-member advisory committee — consisting mostly of developers and real estate companies — includes representatives from Sterling Bay, Related Midwest, Shapack Partners, Tucker Development, Ascot Realty Group and SVN International.

Throughout the heated meetings, residents criticized the makeup of the advisory committee, saying it wasn’t representative of the needs or visions of residential property owners, which would make up a plurality of the property owners in the proposed district. Residents also criticized the West Loop Community Organization’s outreach efforts for not telling them a Special Service Area was being considered much sooner.

When residents asked how the advisory committee was selected, Scott Masel, who sits on the Fulton Market SSA advisory committee and the West Loop Community Organization Board of Directors, said developers with “deep pockets” are often asked to pay for various neighborhood improvements so they were brought into the conversation early on.

Mark Roschen, assistant commissioner with the city’s Department of Planning and Development, said that while an advisory committee is used to steer the initial conversations to set up a Special Service Area, that committee would be disbanded if the SSA was approved and a body of seven volunteer commissioners would be appointed by the mayor from a pool of applicants to make decisions on how money collected by the tax levy would be used in the district.

Agostinelli said the organization was committed to making certain that the commission would be reflective of the diverse property owners within the district.

Credit: Mauricio Peña/ Block Club Chicago
Mark Roschen, Assistant Commissioner at Chicago Department Planning and Development, explains Special Service Areas.

Boundary Revisions 

During the Tuesday and Wednesday meetings, the SSA boundaries were initially pitched from Hubbard and Halsted streets, Washington Blvd., Ogden Avenue, and Union Park.

After listening to feedback from the community, the district was scaled back, Agostinelli said.

The new boundaries would be Hubbard Street, Halsted Street, Ogden Avenue and both sides of Randolph. The district would also include Union Park. 

Agostinelli said the organization and consulting firm is currently reevaluating how many properties would fall into the revised boundaries, and an updated proposal would be unveiled to community members in another public meeting.

TIF Concerns

If approved, the Special Service Area would exist for 10 years. However, the SSA wouldn’t receive all of the funding collected by the tax levy in the first three years.

Of the $1.1 million generated from the levy, 73 percent — or $801,549 would go toward the Kinzie Tax Increment Funding District until it expires in 2022, while the SSA would receive  26 percent or $293,716. 

Kimberly Bare, of Place Consulting that worked with the West Loop Community Organization on the proposal, said Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) would not renew the TIF district that overlays the proposed SSA.

Burnett could not be reached for comment.

As part the proposed budget for the first year, 35 percent or $103,716 would go toward safety programming, 34 percent or $100,000 would be used for public way aesthetics, 15 percent or $45,000 would go towards economic and business development. The remaining $35,000 would go towards personnel and Special Service Area management.

Some residents asked for the proposal to be postponed until after the TIF expired so the full budget would be used for the proposed Special Service Area.

But Agostinelli defended the application, saying the West Loop population had increased over the last five years and would continue to increase in the coming years with another 4,000 residential units being constructed or proposed in 2017 and 2018 alone. 

Agostinelli said existing infrastructure was inadequate to keep up with the rapid growth and necessitated additional services to address growing concerns that continue to burden residents.   

Property owner Greg Shapps said the idea of a special service tax seemed “premature,” especially with a huge portion of the levy being siphoned off into a TIF that may not necessarily be used within the TIF district. 

“It makes no sense,” Shapps said, who opposes additional taxes for services that should already be covered by city services.

Another resident, who declined to share his name, said the community as a whole had to face the reality of the inadequacies with city services. He said that an SSA was a way to make up for shortfalls.

Next Steps 

The West Loop Community Organization will hold another community meeting on the proposed Fulton Market Special Service Area on June 20 to update residents on feedback from its community meetings.

The nonprofit plans to submit its application on the Special Service Area to the Department of Planning and Development later this year.

If approved by City Council, the district could be adopted as early as January 1, 2020.

There are currently 53 Special Service Areas across Chicago. 

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