After a relentless string of high-end robberies along Chicago’s main shopping street, a city council committee on Wednesday agreed to increase commercial property taxes along North Michigan Avenue to fund safety improvements.
Almost a year ago to the day, Mayor Lori Lightfoot condemned as “Alderman prerogative at its worst” the decision by members of the inner city council to block plans for the fiscal district, known as of “special service area”.
The mayor then argued that commercial properties fronting the Magnificent Mile were “hurting” after a dramatic drop in sales and foot traffic and that Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) and Brendan Reilly (42nd) were wrong to prevent them from taxing themselves to strengthen their defenses.
The Council’s Committee on Capital and Economic Development on Wednesday approved the trade tax hike after Hopkins and Reilly’s opposition dissipated.
Reilly was no longer slamming the tax district’s “truncated, hurry and approve” creation, or saying that a “significant chunk” of the money generated by the tax hike would go to “the salaries, contracts, personnel and Other operating expenses. ”
He said he and Hopkins had opposed the tax district because of “concerns about the process, the engagement with stakeholders … the way the budget was developed and the priorities it detailed,” he said. said Reilly.
“The Mag Mile Association and the Planning Department have done a very good job after this point in properly socializing the plan, getting more buy-in from affected landowners. And they’ve also completely reworked their budget proposal, which now prioritizes public safety investments over marketing events and programming. “
Reilly said that was why he now supported this tax district, calling it a “short-term” and “stopgap effort to provide immediate assistance” and “significant investments in security” along the way. the city’s first commercial corridor.
“After that, the hope is that the city can persuade the General Assembly to pass district business improvement legislation because, frankly, I think it’s a much more powerful economic tool with better governance, ”he said.
The special services district will be in place for three years and the service tax will only apply to commercial buildings within the district boundaries. This tax will not exceed 0.05% per annum on the equalized assessed value of the taxable property.
It is expected to bring in around $ 742,000 a year, including around $ 472,000 if it goes to public safety initiatives.
Hopkins agreed that the now revised “original presentation” did not prioritize the budget in a way “residents and local businesses” insist.
“What started out as an objection to the process actually dramatically improved the end product in terms of prioritizing public safety measures and other improvements in the community,” he said.
Hopkins pointed to ideas put forward by the Urban Land Institute to reinvent northern Michigan at a time when vacancy rates exceeded 20%.
As Sun-Times columnist David Roeder reported this week, those ideas include: introducing Parisian-style cafes and independent, one-of-a-kind boutiques; building a pedestrian bridge to Oak Street Beach; and creating better connections with Navy Pier.
Other possibilities include dividing the mile-long shopping district into branded sections, one of which blends show business and retail.
“Clearly there is a price to be paid for all the great ideas that come out of this process. Many of them are exciting. Many of them are compelling. A lot of them, at least at the start, I’m willing to support, ”Hopkins said.
“But it always raises the question, ‘How are you going to pay for these great ideas? And something like this SSA can be at least part of that answer. And it wasn’t something we envisioned a year ago when this idea first came to us.
Without mentioning Lightfoot and his wordless critics, Hopkins said, “While there was some frustration” with the delay, it was “in an effort to dramatically improve this proposal, which was accomplished. I am very happy with the result, it was a year worth the wait.
A year ago, Hopkins wasn’t that diplomatic.
He responded to Lightfoot’s remark on “Alderman prerogative at its worst” by accusing the mayor of trying to “carry out a dictatorial Chicago regime” which has been hampered “not because of the Alderman prerogative, but because the legislative branch is a co-equal branch of government. “
“It’s a lesson she has to learn and has to learn quickly,” Hopkins said that day.