Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s recent decision to chip in about $30 million for a subway tunnel and a 1.5-acre public park to be built alongside a new West Loop office building has got some Chicago residents upset.
On Tuesday morning about 70 community activists marched to the Mayor’s Office from the proposed site of the 45-story, $300 million River Point development near Lake and Canal Streets. The group said they want the city’s money used for parks in the city’s poorest neighborhoods, not in Chicago’s thriving downtown area.
Luz Hueramo, a young mother from the Brighton Park neighborhood, said Kelly Park near her home needs nearly $3 million in repairs.
“The city says there is no money for this type of community project,” Hueramo said. “However, this plan for a corporate plaza would cost an estimate of $29.5 million in TIF money. It is not fair that TIF money is being used in areas where it is not needed.”
Tax Increment Financing, or TIF, is a source of taxpayer dollars set aside for use by the mayor and the aldermen as corporate subsidies or to fund public projects. Originally designed by the state to spur economic growth only in blighted or low-income areas, the TIF program seems to have fallen short of that goal.
Even Mayor Emanuel has proposed a TIF reform project, though that’s been shelved for now. Emanuel has also defended spending the $29.5 million on the subway and park telling the Chicago Tribune that the public space will be open to everyone and the project will generate both tax money and construction jobs.
But in a separate Tribune article a spokesperson for Hines, the development company behind the project, said the demand for office space “is not strong enough today.” Greg Van Schaack, senior vice president of Hines’ Chicago office, said otherwise the company would begin work on its next project: a $1 billion office and apartment complex to be built across the river from the River Point development.
Amisha Patel, executive director of Grassroots Collaborative, which organized Tuesday's rally, wrote a letter to the mayor that the group delivered to Emanuel’s office before leaving the building. In the letter, Patel requested a meeting with the mayor and asked for an end to the LaSalle Central TIF district.
“The money is being siphoned away to be given to downtown developers to build skyscrapers, to build corporate plazas. That’s not what makes sense with our money. These are hard-earned taxpayer dollars that should be going absolutely to invest in local neighborhoods,” she said outside the Mayor’s Office.
Patel added that she supports TIF reforms if they include setting up protocols for tracking spending, accountability, and the long-term effects of TIF-funded projects.
Here's more from Tuesday's action: