WEST GARFIELD PARK — City Council will soon consider creating a special tax district on the West Side to give its local economy a boost using funds raised by a new tax.
Many residents have long advocated for this kind of support for West Garfield Park’s commercial areas. But some neighbors and business owners criticized a plan for the district, called Special Service Area 77, to be managed by an organization based in a neighboring community rather than one in Garfield Park.
Special Service Area 77 would encompass much of the struggling Madison and Pulaski corridor that was once an economic backbone for the West Side. The district would cover Madison Street from Kenton Avenue to Hamlin Boulevard on the east and Pulaski Road between Congress Parkway and Lake Street.
The district would use funds raised from a tax to pay for special services in the area to encourage a stronger business environment. Improvements could include beautification projects, public health and safety programs and enhancements of public spaces like the Garfield Park Community Plaza and Roller Rink at Madison and Pulaski.
“You drive that strip and it looks like a tornado has been through it. … [The tax district] is a tool that can be utilized to do some positive marketing, some events, some safety,” said Ald. Jason Ervin (28th.)
Services would be funded by a property tax increase of up to 2 percent within the district that would generate an estimated $256,317 in the first year.
The specific services offered by the district would be determined by a board of local business owners, but the special service area would prioritize public safety and beautification initiatives, Ervin said.
“It’s very long overdue. We are in desperate need of beautification and security support and economic development for businesses,” said LaTanya Nelson, a property and business owner in West Garfield Park.
The district would be in place for 10 years and begin in January if the plan is passed by the appropriate committee and full City Council in December. For the first year, the service provider for the district would be the Westside Health Authority, but the provider could be changed in future years, city officials said.
“We have some very active property owners, some very active business owners who will just contribute wildly to making this [business district] one of the best in the city,” said Morris Reed, CEO of the Westside Health Authority.
The Westside Health Authority already manages a special service area in Austin, where the social service agency is based. Its success in Austin and the group’s “longstanding relationships across the West Side” puts it in a strong position to be the service provider for the West Garfield Park district, Ervin said.
“We look at the West Side of the Chicago as one unit,” Ervin said. “We know they know how to get the job done.”
But some decried the choice of the Westside Health Authority as the service provider since the group is not headquartered in the neighborhood.
Siri Hibbler, founder of the Garfield Park Chamber of Commerce, previously applied to create a special service area with the same boundaries. Her 2019 attempt was derailed by “aldermanic prerogative,” Hibbler said at a City Council committee hearing for the proposed district.
Hibbler called on City Council to halt the creation of this district since the Westside Health Authority “has never had an office or done any work with residents or businesses in the Garfield Park community and thus do not understand the needs of the businesses or community and how to efficiently and sufficiently serve their needs and business growth,” she said.
Ervin said the Garfield Park Chamber of Commerce is also not headquartered in West Garfield Park, as it is in the neighboring East Garfield Park community area.
But some business owners agreed with Hibbler that the district should be managed by a more local group.
“This is not fair. We think that people that are invested in this area, West Garfield Park, should have a say-so in this [special service area]. Not outsiders,” said Michael Rembert, a business owner who manages the MP Mall at Madison and Pulaski. “We need people that’s in West Garfield to run this.”
While several took issue with which group would manage the programs, all residents and business owners at the City Council committee hearing for the district strongly supported the resources it would bring to the area.
“We need the additional resources to help with security, cleanup, beautification, with safety being the No. 1 issue. People need to feel safe … to have any chance of attracting more development or customers from outside the community,” said Phil DeGeratto, owner of Buddy Bear Car Wash.
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