Thursday, May 29, 2008

Village Theater Restoration: Our TIF Dollars at Work

A community meeting on the proposed restoration of the Village Theater at 6740 N. Sheridan Road will take place at:

TUESDAY, JUNE 3, 2008 AT 7:00 PM

The building's new owner, Anthony Fox, of ADF Capital, will be on hand to share his plans to restore the terra cotta exterior of the building, which houses a number of businesses. The current operator of the Village Theatre will be evicted, and Fox states that he hopes to operate the theater after restoration.

The proposal asks for $200,000 in TIF district funding. The property is part of the Loyola TIF district.

Personally, I love the Village Theater building, and I'm ecstatic that the new ownership intends to restore this beloved building. The Village is the last film house left in Rogers Park, and one of the last on the north lakefront. and the building with its broad brick plaza pretty much makes the corner of Columbia and Sheridan.

And $200,000 is not so much money, is it?

It's certainly not the worst use possible of funds made available to private entities by the devices of a program that should not even exist to begin with. What's $200K compared to the $2,000,000 grants to rental property owners and developers of overpriced condos along Sheridan Road,or, most of all, the tens of millions that are being used to fund the restoration and construction of the Mundelein College and other Loyola University buildings? At least the money earmarked for the Village Theater Bldg.will be used to restore a lovely old building that is a landmark of sorts, and for the benefit of businesses that make the neighborhood more attractive and livable.

It is just that the TIF should not exist to begin with. Chicago's 160 or so TIF districts constitute a massive diversion of present and future tax monies from urgent, unmet needs, notably our decrepit water and sewer infrastructure, and underfunded police and fire departments, as well as our public schools and transit.

Our politicians may not have noticed, but Chicago is nearly bankrupt, a circumstance most of its citizens couldn't have imagined 20 years ago, at the beginning of King Richard's reign. Chicago was an extremely well-run city with reasonable taxes, excellent police and fire protection, superior public transit, decent infrastructure,solid finances,and old neighborhoods that were steadily improving by means of private investment unaided by massive public grants to private developers, and far less at the mercy of the whims of politicians armed with TIF legislation and eminent domain rights.

Worse, there is no longer any rhyme or reason to the allocation of public money. All claims on our funds seem to have equal weight; the demand for, say, $20,000 to provide jugglers for a children's event is given weight equal to a public school's need for new textbooks, and a few million clams to renovate a fugly apartment building for the profit of its ownership, is given equal consideration with the need to replace a water main under a major artery before the street collapses and swallows a few automobiles, or provide our police with the manpower and tools they need to compete with the gangs for control of our streets.

Most of all, taxpayers are forced to subsidize strictly private projects whose benefits do not accrue to them, at the expense of necessary public services and public amenities available to everyone. The funds allocated to Loyola U. for campus buildings will benefit only those rich enough to pay nearly $35,000 a year in tuition and housing, to the detriment of public schools available to all citizens. The citizens are paying to subsidize big barn stores in which they might or might not shop, to the detriment of the business who are forced to subsidize their better-heeled competition through their taxes.

We can no longer pretend that we can afford this type of waste. We have too many unmet and really critical needs to fund, and very little time to meet them, before energy prices reach levels that will make it impossible to make basic repairs necessary to keep Chicago's massive street, water, and sewer networks minimally functional, let alone put into place the more efficient systems and vastly expanded public transportation we'll need for the city to be minimally safe and livable in another twenty years.

Instead of frantic, late campaigns to block this TIF or that, or efforts to funnel the money to useful purposes, we need to repeal the 1952 legislation that authorizes TIF districts, and start the process of rolling back most diversions of public money to strictly private purposes, beginning with the massive subsidies to large businesses that destroy true competition and foster the destruction of local business and retail networks; to the countless claims of public funds that drive property and sales taxes and impoverish the population as a whole while making life impossible for most of our small, locally-owned businesses, while starving our public services.


Anonymous said...

TIFs for private profit are different then TIFs for private non-profit. Although Loyola is getting a huge chunk of money via the TIF, they give a lot more out to the neighborhood and offer far more stability then the money going to private for-profit condos. Will the investment be returned to the neighborhood over the next 10 to 15 years in what it offers? More students renting and buying retail? The current building and investment that is going on along Sheridan rd? The buzz that Loyola U's investment creates for ROgers park as a whole? Indeed I think so. TIFs have some good and some deficits. A wholesale condemnation of their merits is I think both intellectually sloppy as well as naive from a developmental perspective. Loyola has done far more for Rogers Park over the past 100 years then any other institution. Are their abuses with TIFs? you bet....for instance the apartments/condos being subsidized along SHeridan rd (the ugly ones south of the theatre). Investment does need to be made in public schools, roads, trains, etc. again. The way to do that is through ideas. Thanks for championing the debate and clarification of these on this blog.

The North Coast said...

What, exactly, has Loyola done for Rogers Park, beyond taking more land and buildings off the tax rolls and catering to students who can pay $25,000 in tuition (exclusive of housing, meals, books, and other incidentals) to go there? Or contribute a temporary population of students who are not committed to the neighbrohood?

And what, exactly, has Loyola done for me?

The people who have done the most for Rogers Park are the stable, middle-class residents who have sat pat and toughed out the worst times in this neighborhood, while Loyola has sat here for 78 years, giving very little in direct benefits. I'm grateful for the pretty new buildings, but we must remember they don't pay a dime in property taxes.

And it contributes NO tax revenue. The whole point of TIF districts is to build the tax base.

Loyola does not permit taxpayers in the nabe to use its library, or any of its other facilities.

It's absolutely idiotic to think that we will support schools, transsit, and roads through "ideas". The "ideas" that support these things are being undermined by the vastly more prevalent idea that anyone with power is entitled to our taxes, to the detriment of these things.

If I'm to support and endow a private educational institution through my taxes, I'd like to choose the institution, please. For example, I might choose to endow Northwestern, or a scholarship fund for students majoring in green architecture, or some other area of urgent relavence to our current problems. I'd also like to get a tangible benefit in return, like well-maintained infrastructure, good police protection, and education for those who can't afford pricey private institutions, but whose lack of basic skills will condemn them to being threats to my safety and well being down the road.

Anonymous said...

"It's absolutely idiotic to think that we will support schools, transsit, and roads through "ideas". The "ideas" that support these things are being undermined by the vastly more prevalent idea that anyone with power is entitled to our taxes, to the detriment of these things."

I do not hold such a pessimistic view of ideas. Your analysis relies too heavily on a Marxian paradigm. Though such a class-power analysis has its strengths, I think it falls apart in understanding the impact that ideas and the creative class can make on neighborhoods. Your comment about what Loyola has done for you speaks volumes. I believe the University offers a lot culturally, socially, even environmentally (their campus is quickly changing). Their investment in the neighborhood already pays off and will continue to. It would be nice to see them play a larger public role in addressing issues and focusing their research on neighborhood issues and problems. Your negative comments, however, suggest a deeper resentment (favoring Northwestern---a university not even in our neighborhood?--what types of values does that suggest...not one committed to local sustainability). I also think your view of Loyola students is very naive and superficial. Your comments on them and where they come from conveys both ignorance as well as resentment. Loyola has an increasingly diverse student body; more and more are living, working, and choosing to live on in Rogers Park.

The North Coast said...

How on Earth can you state that my preference for Northwestern "does not favor local sustainability"? What kind of idiocy is this?

As it happens, I prefer to donate whatever I spare to institutions that share my philosophy and religious preferences, and I believe I am entitled to spend my money on MY choices, not yours.

You may do whatever you wish with your money,and if you wish to endow Loyola, that is your choice. However, you don't have the right to make my choices for me, and I choose not to benefit an institution owned and run by a religious order not my own. The allocation of my future tax dollars to Loyola is really a violation of my religious freedom.

Also, I am a citizen of CHICAGO, not merely Rogers Park and Edgewater,and I am very much interested in making this city financially sustainable, which it currently is not. We are headed for massive, unmanageable financial problems and will be unable to maintain basic services on the level we're used to if we continue to leach the tax rolls to benefit private institutions and corporate entities.

I am probably much older than you, and I can remember a time when non-public institutions were not recipients of any form of public aid. Our public schools were much better then, and we had far fewer problems balancing our national and municipal budgets. Property taxes were much lower relative to value, and you could buy a home and feel certain that one day you could actually OWN the place. The taxes you paid were sufficient to maintain your community services, and it was not considered that every private entity with a worthwhile purpose automatically had an unlimited call on your money and property.

It would benefit the neighborhood much more to have decent public schools,and it would benefit the city more to have a decently-educated population prepared to cope with the challenges of college and the job market. We would also benefit from more police presence. Most of all, we would greatly benefit from being able to stay in homes we have struggled our entire lives to buy, without fear of being dispossessed by exorbitant property taxes.

If you can't understand what an injustice it is that people are taxed into penury in order to build splendid buildings for a strictly private institution, then you are lacking a basic sense of justice and fairness.

We are now staggering under the load of rapidly increasing costs, and increasing claims on our tax dollars, and the situation is only going to worsen as we enter the era of permanent resource scarcity. It is very likely that within 10 years, half of the country's population will have fallen into permanent poverty, and we will scarcely have the wherewithal to maintain the most basic services, like emergency response and basic infrastructure maintenance. Shall we be further impoverished, with the people at the absolute bottom facing starvation and homelessness, just to benefit private entities at the public expense?

You also fail to grasp that a core principal is being violated here. It really doesn't matter how worthy the private beneficiary of tax money may be. The nasty precedent has been set, and there is no way we can then logically argue against massive tax breaks and direct subsidies for distinctly less worthy entities such as big barn stores and redundant shopping plazas, for they can just as easily claim that they benefit their localities by virtue of job creation and economic development. Where does it stop?

Consider also, how we will continue to support anything at all when the ratio of tax-paying property to tax-supported property tips over completely, to the point where claims on tax monies simply far exceed the public's ability to pay. That time is very close at hand. We are already, as a country, excessively burdened with road infrastructure we can no longer afford to maintain, and worse, more than half of all citizens are employed, directly or indirectly, by a federal, state, or local government entity, while the private sector that pays the taxes to support this is shrinking.

It's time to start unwinding the massive structure of subsidies to private entities, and reserve public money for urgent public needs. This means that even funding for things very dear to my heart, such as arts funding for strictly private institutions , and grants for individual artists, should end, even though these are beneficiaries who I dearly love and who I further believe are making crucial contributions to our culture. Do I have the right to ask minimum-wage earners who can barely afford to rent a film, to fund the things that I enjoy but that they do not?

Do we have the right to make such major choices for all citizens? Is there anyone who really has the fund of wisdom and knowledge necessary to make choices involving so much of our resources, that will have such major repercussions playing out over such a long period of time? No one but the "invisible hand" can make such choices.

Anonymous said...

Blah, blah, blah

"You also fail to grasp that a core principal is being violated here."

Blah, Blah, blah....

This is about the only thing worthy of listening to. Lets be specific here: you have a problem with TIF money supporting private religious (not your religion) based organizations. Why don't you bring a lawsuit then. I do not think you will see the courts favoring your view of things. By the way, your blog doesn't seem interested in real dialogue so much as a sounding board for your views. Don't expect me or many others to return to it.