The City Colleges is planning to markedly increase the size of a special tax district in Englewood that will help pay for tearing down the old Kennedy-King College.
The tax increment finance district, or TIF, would divert millions of dollars in property taxes to help pay for projects to reduce blight – such as redeveloping the old Kennedy-King site.
The TIF has not been formed yet, but the proposed expansion means the City Colleges is shelling out nearly $190,000 more than it already has to craft the proposal. And it has one alderman concerned about the lack of transparency in the process.
Initially, City Colleges officials wanted the TIF to cover the area around the old campus, located at Marquette and Wentworth.
But at a recent meeting, the district said its consultant suggested expanding the district to cover a 96-block area stretching more than a mile south of the old Kennedy-King. That would make the TIF district twice the size of Washington Park.
“The building is scheduled to be leveled and we will have vacant land that the city believes will be advantageous for development, both residential and commercial,” Diane Minor, a vice chancellor, said at a meeting last week.
Minor could not be reached to answer additional questions about why the TIF is growing. Molly Sullivan, a spokeswoman for the city’s Department of Community Development, says she is not familiar with the project. Ald. Freddrenna Lyle (D-6), whose ward includes much of the new TIF, did not return a call seeking comment.
The planned expansion has Ald. Scott Waguespack (D-32), an advocate of TIF reform, concerned.
“You would think that they would have considered (making it bigger) right off the bat,” Waguespack says. “That suddenly there is another expansion in this direction, when you start expanding that way, it just kind of shows that you don’t have a solid plan in the first place.”
In October, the City Colleges approved spending $103,000 to have a consultant draw up plans for the new TIF district – at that time, just the area around the old campus.
Last week, the district approved spending an extra $188,000, or nearly triple the money in total, so that Johnson Research could pursue a TIF covering a larger area.
A document signed by Chancellor Wayne Watson indicates that Johnson Research met with city officials and local officials over the size of the TIF.
That “resulted in the City’s recommendation to expand the initial TIF District boundaries from just the campus footprint to include additional property,” the document says.
But Waguespack says those discussions should include community members, and that every property owner in the area should have been invited.
“I don’t think they should expand it without talking to or inviting every single person there,” Waguespack says.
Much of the added cost for the old Kennedy-King TIF comes from having to review the nearly 3,300 properties in the TIF area, send mailings to all of those property owners and survey the area. Public hearings will happen later, once the TIF’s boundaries are established.
So far, the district has not said how much money it expects to raise from the TIF.
Demolishing the old Kennedy-King is budgeted at $10 million and the TIF funds would cover that, district officials have said.
Expanding the TIF district would help pay for construction projects at other City Colleges campuses, district documents say.
“What we’ve seen quite a bit is these expansions are not really make public until the last moment or until the deal is already done,” Waguespack says.
Daily News Staff Writer Peter Sachs covers higher education. He can be reached at 773.362.5002, ext. 18, or peter [at] chitowndailynews [dot] org.