Saturday, October 10, 2009

What Hath the Loyola TIF Wrought: The Blighting of Sheridan Road by Loyola University

Your Devon-Loyola TIF dollars at work at 6610-28 N. Sheridan Road- still a blighted eyesore three years later, pictured at the left.

The recent destruction of the two charming old commercial buildings at 6572-90 by Loyola University was an unpleasant reminder, to me, of the monstrous misallocation of taxpayer money that is the Loyola-Devon TIF, a $50 million taxpayer-funded windfall for the university that is paying for the renovation of four buildings on the campus and gives Loyola University control over 270 parcels of land lining Sheridan Road from Devon Avenue to Farwell, and along Devon Ave. from Sheridan to Clark. I

Why didn't the university buy and demolish the blight-pit pictured above instead? We would love to see this reeking slum kicked down and replaced with a garden.

It's rather difficult, at first blush, to discern a connection between the economic leverage the TIF granted the university, and the demolition of these buildings. These buildings have been Loyola's property for years, after all. But it's difficult not to think that the economic power and spare funds granted the university by the TIF were a big factor in the university's decision to demolish the properties instead of renovating them. Worse, the loss of these buildings augers very ill for the beautiful, colorful little building that remains, for the TIF grants Loyola control over the entire block, and given modern developers' preference for over-scaled mega-buildings in preference to small ones, it is likely that the university has plans for this block that don't include quirky little buildings.- plans it couldn't contemplate were it not for its access to tens of millions of dollars in public money. If there are plans afoot for a large building down the road, then this building will fall, too, and cost us a beautiful, irreplaceable building and two fine old local businesses.

There was a public meeting concerning the demolition, which was by this time a done deal, and the the university promised to install a garden, which promise they are now talking about reneging on. There was no legal ground to stop the demolition, for these two buildings, while lovely, were not "significant", and the university pointed out that rehabilitating them would cost $500K while demolishing them would cost only $100K. So last week, down they came, and what was once a solid wall of charming, densely decorative old buildings is a gap-toothed block of gravel and dirt lots. The only remaining buildings are the el station building with Harris Bank and McDonald's, Beck's Books, and the incredibly decorative and charming building containing two great local businesses, Affordable Optical and Carmen's. This little building has an incredibly colorful terra cotta facade and it is difficult to imagine that anything built beside it in the future will come near equalling it in beauty and charm.

Thus the charm and character of a neighborhood is lost, and the economic power granted the university by the TIF is used not to improve the area and foster local economic growth, but to blight the neighborhood. Developer Daniel McAffrey's The Morgan at Loyola Station, the beautiful new rental apartment building that went up on Sheridan just south of the Loyola el is a major plus for the area, but it's not a sufficient offset to the destruction the university is wrecking elsewhere along the street. It could also be argued that McAffrey could have developed this building without the TIF, though the funds could sweeten the near-term losses this property is no doubt suffering in the current soft rental market. The rehabilitation of the old Village Theatre-with $200K public money- as the new 400 Theatre is another plus, even though it's not particularly well-done, but it is offset by the blighted 4-plus-1 at 6628 N. Sheridan, whose rehabilitation is being funded by funds from the TIF, and at this point is, three years later, a decrepit eyesore. The construction is proceeding so slowly as to be invisible, and the building appears to be partially inhabited and is advertising apartments as being available for rent. The parkway in front of the building is a weedy patch strewn with litter. 1200 W. Pratt, the very last building in the strip of land controlled by the TIF, was a decrepit slum purchased at an absurdly inflated price and rehabbed slowly into overpriced condominiums by Lohan Realty, and is now a market rate rental. The ground floor retail spaces are still under renovation, and the broad plaza in front of the building, which could easily be renovated into a beatiful focal spot for this street corner, is still a patch of cracked old concrete. While nobody was gladder to see this mangy slum vacated and renovated than I was, except for perhaps my landlord, it's difficult to see how the TIF funding made any difference in the fate of this building.

In summary, the Loyala TIF district has produced very little in the way of economic development relative to the allocation of public money,and has done more to destroy the tax base than add to it; all in all, the only winner is Loyola, which has managed to get the taxpayers to pay for the reno of four large campus buildings with money that is badly needed for municipal services such as police protection and infrastructure repair. Such development as has taken place, like the Morgan, arguably would have taken place without it and might even have taken place sooner were it not for the university's control over the strip. The eyesore at 6610-28 was better kept and occupied before "rehabilitation" began. The corner of Devon and Sheridan is still occupied by a former fast food outlet, which has now been rented to yet another fast food outlet. The Weinstein Funeral Home is now vacant, and the property with its four parking lots fronting (and defacing)Devon Ave., are for sale, with no plans in place for the development of these blighted parcels.

In arguing for the Devon-Loyola TIF, aldermen Moore (49th Ward) and O'Connor (40th Ward), argued that the university is a good neighbor that Rogers Park should be grateful for and that we should extend ourselves to keep the university here by tossing this well-endowed institution $46 million to improve tax-exempt property, which is not an appropriate use of funds under a program specifically designed to expand the tax base. However, their argument is pretty specious in view of the fact that Loyola has been here since 1878, through all the years of Rogers Park's early development and its later deterioration. What was the university doing, exactly, to combat the blight that spread rapidly through Edgewater and Rogers Park in the 70s and 80s? In any case, it's doubtful that Loyola would trash investments it has made on its campus here over the past 100 years simply for lack of a windfall it is not morally or legally entitled to, nor would it be at a loss to fund these projects without the TIF money.

This would be a good time not only to challenge the Devon-Loyola TIF, but the city's other TIF districts that have notably failed in their stated purpose and moreover have fostered ugly, inappropriate development that often fails economically, at massive cost to the public in both money and degradation of the civic envirnonment. The Berwyn-Broadway TIF gave us the strip mall slum at that corner with its incredibly ugly buildings and vast expanses of black asphalt, thus further degrading the blight-pocked Broadway streetscape. The Ashland-Diversey TIF destroyed dozens of charming old apartment buildings that could have been renovated into desirable housing and replaced them with another strip mall of overscaled suburban-styled Big Box retailers. The Broadway-Lawrence TIF is paying for the renovation of two exquisite old Uptown commercial buildings, but the major retailer, Border's Books, which was the beneficiary of local subsidies, will be vacating its space on Broadway as soon as it sublets its space, and will leave a huge vacant space that is unsuitable for a small local business and will probably sit vacant for many years.

But to to challenge these TIFs and to prevent other TIF districts from being formed, we need to not only make use of every law that would enable us overturn existing TIFs, but we need most to attack at the root, which is the 1952 legislation passed by Illinois that enables the formation of thse districts. We need also to demand legislation that protects property owners from eminent domain proceedings.


Just Joe said...

VERY disturbing that you do not mention Bruno's, the oldest business on Sheridan. That kind of bias is exactly whats wrong with the TIFF idea. What would be better?

The North Coast said...

Oh, DEAR, how could I ever FORGET!!!!

I guess I don't notice most watering holes too much, except maybe Gino's on Granville.

My profound apologies. Truthfully, the loss of Bruno's would be really sad.