Hyde Parkers sounded off to their aldermen, Sophia King (4th) and Leslie Hairston (5th), about ways to spend a large amount of Tax Increment Financing (TIF) money in the first engagement session held on how the neighborhood will invest in its main commercial district.
"Sophia and I wanted to bring everybody into the fold to make sure that we move forward as one community," Hairston said at the May 20 meeting. "I've been with this TIF since pretty much its inception … and we've had growth and development over the 53rd Street corridor over the years. But as anything, you've got to keep upgrading and keep moving up. And we found ourselves in a position where we actually had some resources to do something with."
The 53rd Street TIF was established in 2001, and funds from it have been used for the development of Hyatt Place, 5225 S. Harper Ave., and the Harper Court development. Less money has been used in recent years; now, there's close to $20 million to spend.
"We said, 'What will our priorities be? How can we make this a real community process and involvement?' We haven't done that since the creation of the TIF," Hairston said. "There have really been no large, all-out visioning sessions in awhile. So I thought this would be a great opportunity to do this. We have such wonderful talent and resources in our community, and I thought that would be great for them to be a part of it."
In a TIF district, property tax revenue above the level set after the district's establishment goes into a pot that can be spent on public infrastructure, municipal facilities, affordable housing projects, rehabilitating existing buildings, environmental remediations and property acquisition. TIF spending cannot be spent to build new buildings, aside from new affordable housing.
There are two TIF districts in Hyde Park; the smaller one, 51st and Lake Park, was established to assist construction of City Hyde Park, 5105 S. Harper Ave., finished in 2016. Little money remains in that one.
Both aldermen have discussed bridging business development west of Woodlawn Avenue to the cluster of shops at 53rd and Ellis and to Harold Washington Park, where they have proposed building shelters for the tennis courts. The 53rd Street TIF district does not extend that far.
Though TIF dollars have to be spent within the TIF district, King said she and Hairston want to leverage the resources they can use within the district and then ask agencies like the Chicago Park District or Department of Transportation "to see our vision" and use the spending of the $20 million to advocate for other resources.
"While Nichols Park may sit in the TIF and Harold Washington Park doesn't, we could certainly ask for money from the TIF for Nichols and then say, 'Hey, we also need some money in our vision for Harold Washington,'" King said.
The two also have aldermanic menu dollars at their disposal for project spending. When Colin Benert suggested that TIF money should be spent on assuring pedestrian safety at the intersection of Lake Park and 53rd, Hairston answered that she and King share his concern but that TIF dollars needn't be spent to make those improvements.
"We could use our menu money to make improvements to that intersection," she said. "If that is something that we could do, I would like for us to do that now."
Angela Parajape, executive director at Hyde Park Neighborhood Club, responding to the aldermen's suggestion of inviting local architects and designers to contribute to the allocation of TIF dollars, suggested that the community should meet to define its values first "to show what's important to us."
She suggested accessibility and inclusive community space. "Being in the 21st century, hyper-local communities are responsible for environmental stewardship and the sustainability of our local environment," she continued. "I know one thing. Being in a city, when we've been doing community surveys, a lot of families feel nature-starved. Preserving nature and our local environment, giving people a way to connect with the natural environment, is something that we've found our families at HPNC have voiced a need for."
Kenwood Academy, 5015 S. Blackstone Ave., is already receiving millions of dollars in TIF investments, and Stacy Robinson, a member of the parent-teacher organization and parent advisory council at Murray Language Academy, 5335 S. Kenwood Ave., is keen on what investments the elementary will receive out of this round of investments as well.
"They have a playlot where every time it rains, it floods. And plus they share with Nichols Park as well," she said. "It's really a very barren large piece of land. There is a jungle gym out there, but it's a small jungle gym, and it's really geared towards the kindergartners, maybe up to the 1st and 2nd graders. You basically have the 3rd graders on up just out running wild and loose, nothing to engage in."
(Hairston, for her part, suggested that TIF spending on schools should be supplemental and tasked Chicago Public Schools with ensuring that school maintenance is continually up to par.)
Grants for businesses, nonprofits available
There is $470,000 available in grants of up to $250,000 from the Small Business Improvement Fund, or SBIF, program, to eligible businesses and nonprofits in the 53rd Street TIF district. The grant can cover costs of building improvements like storefront renovation, building systems, interior remodeling and roof replacements. The average grant is $61,000, and grants are issued by reimbursement.
The application is open from July 1-30. The entire process takes around 18 months between applying and receipt of funds.
The South East Chicago Commission is offering free business consultations to parties interested in applying for SBIF grants, with sign-up at secc-chicago.org/nbdc/virtual.
More information about the SBIF program is available at chicago.gov/sbif.