To the editors:
I wish to express my disappointment with both the cynical tone and the misstatements of facts contained in Ben Joravsky's article [January 27] regarding the Devon-Sheridan TIF district. Mr. Joravsky owes your readership more than an article based on secondary sources from another newspaper's article, complete with that article's distortions. Had Mr. Joravsky bothered to contact either Loyola University or alderman Joe Moore's office he could have written an accurate, informative article. Even if he doesn't trust these sources, he should have at least given them a chance to respond to his allegations. Mr. Joravsky apparently relies heavily on Angela Caputo's article in the News-Star edition of October 12, 2005. Both authors fail to note that the $46 million figure stated as the TIF grant to Loyola is based on the expected future value of the TIF appropriation 23 years from now. The present value is actually approximately $20 million.
Your author then proceeds to quote Bronwyn Elkuss, and her quote is prominently displayed as a teaser above the second page of the article. Ms. Elkuss may indeed have authorized the quote, but the Reader article should also have credited the News-Star, since this is a barely paraphrased version of the same quote from the earlier article.
Both articles also make the same error in stating that TIF money will be used to renovate the university buildings Piper Hall, Coffey Hall, and Flanner Hall. Ms. Caputo probably made the error innocently because City of Chicago documents erroneously list the buildings. In fact, these buildings have already been renovated, and the university is not seeking and has no plans to seek TIF reimbursement.
Perhaps the most important error in the Reader article is entirely of Mr. Joravsky's own making. In describing the Devon-Sheridan TIF area, he claims that it covers "70 acres of prime north-side property including Loyola's lakefront campus." In fact, only fringe portions of the campus are actually in the TIF district. This is a very serious error when considered in context with the anti-Loyola tone of the overall article.
Mr. Joravsky failed to even mention the main topic of the January 17 meeting, which was to present the details of the proposed Mundelein Center renovation. City officials were there to assist with the presentation, not to give "another pitch for the Devon-Sheridan tax increment financing district," as your author asserts. The TIF has been in place since last fall--it certainly no longer needs to be "pitched."
The renovation of Mundelein Center using TIF funds does not depend on any finding of "deterioration" in the consultant's report, because it qualifies under another category. Major portions of the building have enjoyed national landmark status for almost 25 years, and landmark buildings are eligible for TIF funds.
Unfortunately, most of the attendees at the meeting seemed oblivious to the subject of the meeting. With very few of the audience's questions pertaining to the subject project, I am not sure how the author concluded that the presenters were "ducking and dodging the sharper questions," since very few pointed, relevant questions were asked about the Mundelein Center project in the first place. I don't know if Mr. Joravsky was at the meeting, but if he was he would have known that Frank Williams's question went unanswered because it was delivered as a rhetorical accusation rather than a legitimate question and therefore required no answer. While I have my own reservations about the complexity of the TIF statute, I can't understand how an otherwise accomplished reporter could put his name on such a vicious and sloppy rehash of past inaccuracies (while adding some new ones on his own). Your readers deserve better, and Mr. Joravsky owes an apology to the Rogers Park/Edgewater community.
Ben Joravsky replies:
Tom Lisy was on the task force that developed design guidelines for the Sheridan-Devon TIF, so perhaps he knows something the rest of us don't. For the moment, however, ordinary citizens whose tax dollars will be diverted to subsidize the deal have only the public record to go on. And the record shows this: the city's Community Development Commission adopted a resolution on September 13 requesting that the planning department negotiate details of the TIF deal with Loyola and specifying that up to $46,023,911 would go to the university on an interest-free, pay-as-you-go basis over the next 20 years or so. (It notes that that's $20.4 million in today's dollars, but that seems beside the point.) The CDC resolution also specifies work to be done with TIF financing on Piper Hall, Coffey Hall, and Flanner Hall--not just Mundelein Center. If this document is wrong, Loyola University officials and Alderman Joe Moore might have corrected the record back at that meeting. Instead they listened to planning department officials recite details of the project, including plans to renovate Piper, Coffey, and Flanner halls, then praised it as a boon for the city and thanked each other for a job well done--just as they did at the meeting January 17. Loyola officials confirm, counter to what Lisy asserts, that no city documents are mistaken, and that renovations to the buildings in question are in progress rather than completed.
While Lisy is correct that not all of Loyola's lakeshore campus lies within the TIF district, it was drawn to include Piper, Coffey, and Flanner halls and Mundelein Center. Mundelein's landmark status is irrelevant; according to the state law governing TIFs, the money in them must be used to reduce or eliminate the factors behind a district's being declared a TIF. The Devon-Sheridan TIF was created with the stated purpose of fixing deteriorated buildings, improving inadequate utility lines, and boosting the tax base--not restoring landmarks.
Finally, Angela Caputo of the News-Star deserves credit for breaking this TIF story, but I did not draw from it.