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Dawn of the deal

Mayor Emanuel's old campaign manager helps bring an Uptown TIF deal back to life



The last time the TIF-funded deal at Montrose and Clarendon reared its ugly not-so-little head was on a sweltering day in June, when everyone involved would have been better off watching the NBA finals.

About 600 people crammed into the Clarendon Park field house for a community referendum on a developer's proposal to spend $50 million in public money to build condos, a health club, and a grocery store on a 31-acre site now occupied by a vacant medical facility.

The final vote was about 10 percent yes and 90 percent "Hell no!"—as in, do you think we're so stupid as to dole out so many tax dollars to a developer?

A few days later, the local alderman, James Cappleman (46th), announced that the deal was dead—at least for the foreseeable future.

Well guess what? The foreseeable future is now the past. The deal is back.

Yes, the proposal has been miraculously revived, like some old zombie clawing its bloodied hand out of the crypt. Over the last few weeks, the developer, Sedgwick Properties, has quietly sent City Hall a zoning-change request for a scaled-down version of the project.

On December 8, Alderman Cappleman is scheduled to hold yet another public meeting on the matter, this one at Weiss Memorial Hospital. If all goes well for Sedgwick, the deal will be approved in the next few months.

I'd love to tell you Alderman Cappleman's take on the miraculous revival of this plan, but after I called his office I wound up talking to Tressa Feher, his chief of staff. Apparently the alderman is too busy to take questions from inquiring reporters.

According to Feher, Sedgwick has "redesigned" the project so it's smaller in scale. The firm is also not asking for $50 million in tax increment financing funds—now it wants a mere $31 million.

Oh, and one more small thing. In August, Sedgwick brought in a little extra help: former alderman William Banks, who used to chair the City Council's zoning committee, and Greg Goldner, now CEO of Resolute Consulting, who managed former mayor Richard Daley's 2003 mayoral campaign and current mayor Rahm Emanuel's 2002 congressional campaign. Last winter Goldner was also head of a political fund, For a Better Chicago, that funneled nearly half a million dollars into the campaigns of aldermen supportive of Emanuel.

In other words, the proposal has been jolted to life by a massive blast of clout—though Feher says it's not a done deal. "If the community doesn't like it, it will not go through," she says.

Hear that, Clarendon Park neighbors? It's all on you again. Not to pressure you too much.

Look, putting aside the architectural merits of the proposal, the key issue all property-tax payers have to wrestle with is the $31 million.

In case you haven't been following this TIF thing the last few years, here's how it works.

When the city creates a tax increment financing district, it basically freezes the amount of property taxes that the schools, parks, county, and other taxing bodies can collect there for 24 years.

If the schools got $100 a year in property taxes when the TIF was created, that's pretty much all they'll get for the next 24 years.

In the case at hand, the real estate Sedgwick wants to develop currently produces no property-tax dollars—it's been exempt because it's owned by the nonprofit Maryville Academy, an affiliate of the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago.

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