Around $20 million collected through Tax Increment Financing (TIF) is available for local investment, and Hyde Park's aldermen, Sophia King (4th) and Leslie Hairston (5th), are keen to use it to shore up 53rd Street through infrastructure investments.
While no timetable is set — the two had discussed the potential for coordinated development between their offices before the coronavirus pandemic scrambled plans — they plan to reach out to the business community and other stakeholders along 53rd before asking the community at large about how to spend the money.
"We want to make sure that our tax dollars that are in our TIF district get used within our TIF district," Hairston said, adding that their goal is to work with businesses to improve the streetscape and bring in more people.
53rd Street divides the 4th and 5th wards, but King acknowledged that her and Hairston's constituents don't see that.
"Nor should they," she said. "We came together and thought about how best we could use the resources that we have within our control, or how we can leverage and bring more amenities to our Hyde Park neighborhood."
Other projects would be under consideration in terms of infrastructure, parks, schools and storefronts.
Additional improvements are in mind for Kenwood Academy, where King has directed TIF dollars to bring a planned pedway. The aldermen want repairs done to the neighborhood's railroad viaduct underpasses, though they are the Chicago Department of Transportation’s ultimate responsibility.
They also want investments in Nichols and Harold Washington parks, where they suggest construction of a long-sought shelter for the tennis courts. And the two also discussed a re-imagination of the space between Leona's and CVS in Kimbark Plaza, which could be renovated for live music.
But once they have a meeting with community stakeholders like the Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce and the South East Chicago Commission about the TIF money, King and Hairston said they want to hear what the community wants.
"I think the part that will take the most work but what will also be the most fun, at least for Ald. Hairston and me, will just be creating it and bringing people together and seeing what great visions people can come up with," said King.
Hairston chimed in, "What's really beautiful about this is that we've got such a beautiful community with so many different talents that we can pool our different talents from within, because everybody has been inside on Zoom, doing their work. This is something that everybody can actually get involved in. We've got architects. We've got urban planners."
With the return of in-person meetings still up in the air, they said Zoom meetings will still present an opportunity for more people to take part.
"It's a way to utilize tax dollars that are already being collected in the neighborhood, actually in the neighborhood, for projects that benefit in the neighborhood — which is actually what it was intended for — but doing so in a collective way and accounting for those dollars over a period of time so that we make sure that we are making the best use out of the tax dollars that we are collecting," Hairston said.
She added that they want to bridge the 53rd Street streetscape to a cluster of businesses along the 1000 block at Ellis Avenue, "so that west of Woodlawn looks like east of Woodlawn," though the TIF district does not extend that far and thus no TIF dollars could be spent on that effort.
Mayor Harold Washington began the use of TIFs in Chicago, in which a portion of property taxes are used for economic development.
City Council must approve TIF spending, which it usually does. King added that the mayor's office understands what she and Hairston are trying to do with the money in Hyde Park.