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The [Tuesday] Papers

"Over the next month, some Chicago aldermen are expected to argue Mayor Rahm Emanuel's proposed $588 million property tax increase could be largely avoided by closing down the city's tax increment financing (TIF) districts," Mark Brown writes for the Sun-Times.

"Ald. Danny Solis (25th) will not be one of them . . . As Exhibit A, Solis points to the Pilsen Industrial Corridor TIF district in his ward.

Solis said the businesses that have located in the Pilsen Industrial Corridor TIF, bringing 5,000 jobs with them, would not have done so without the city's initial investment to clean up the property made possible by the TIF.

The district is now home to the Chicago International Produce Market, which was moved to make way for the University Village housing development, and hundreds of other small, mostly light industrial businesses, Solis said.

The Pilsen TIF is expected to generate $10.2 million this year, which should grow to $11.6 million a year by 2019.

That's money that Solis is allowed to put toward projects benefitting his ward, as long as they are located within the boundaries of the TIF district.

In this manner, Benito Juarez High School received some $15 million for a performing arts expansion, while Dvorak Park received funding for a new play area.

Solis said he also has been able to use TIF funds for an addition and new playground at Whittier Elementary School.

The city also pulled $6.4 million out of the TIF district to finance major renovations at its animal shelter on Western Avenue.

A list of 2015 spending shows money going toward street resurfacing projects, alley construction, sidewalks, lighting, traffic signals, bridge repair and a feasibility study for what Solis calls a "poor man's 606" bike and pedestrian path.

"We wouldn't have been able to do this without [the Pilsen TIF]," Solis said.

There's also funding for a small business improvement fund to be used for building facades and another fund for a job training program.

And not to be overlooked, there's $22.9 million set aside over the next five years to pay debt service on bond issues where the money was already spent.

I'm not sure why Brown let Solis write his column for him without questioning his claims or pointing out that the alderman's use of TIF money amounts to the slush funding of goodies instead of the kind of projects TIF was originally designed for, but what's worse is that Brown didn't do his homework. It took me a few seconds - at most - to locate this via this spanking new thing called Google:

For example, consider the Pilsen Industrial TIF. Passed in 1998, the Pilsen TIF was intended to preserve the industrial job base in the factories and warehouses in the large manufacturing area near the Stevenson Expressway and Western Avenue. So far the TIF's record on protecting industry has been mixed. It got off to a good start, allocating about $3.5 million to help American Linen build a new operation, but it's gone downhill ever since. Yes, the city spent another $9.5 million in TIF funds to help build the Chicago International Produce Market at 2404 S. Wolcott. But the produce market was relocated from the old South Water Market on Morgan, which is being converted into Chicago University Commons, an upscale complex of loft condominiums, so it was one step forward and another one back in terms of protecting industries from residential encroachment.

Then, starting in 2004, things really went off track. First $5 million went to help Target build a store at 1940 W. 33rd. And then 25th Ward alderman Danny Solis got the City Council to amend the TIF so that a consortium of developers - Mota Construction Company, Kimball Hill Suburban Centers, and former HUD head Henry Cisneros - could build a 391-unit condo development on five acres at Peoria and 18th Street. Many Pilsen residents criticized Solis for using the TIF as a tool to spur gentrification, the very thing it was supposed to curb. Solis insisted that there just weren't that many factories and warehouses looking to come to Pilsen - TIF or no TIF.

The annual statement doesn't weigh in on this debate. Instead it dedicates page after page to mind-numbing legalese, a few confusing fiduciary charts, and a hard-to-read map of the district. Finally, on page 19 of the 39-page report, you get to the good stuff: a list of vendors.

The Pilsen TIF was one of the busier TIFs in the city last year. All told, the city doled out about $7.5 million in TIF funds to 19 vendors, ranging from HNTB Corporation, a sewer design company that got a professional service contract of $15,306, to Acme Refining Scrap Iron and Metal Company, which sold some land to the city for $785,500, to V & V Supremo Foods, which got a job-training contract of $32,889, to Rubin Brothers Inc., which got another job-training contract of $129,414.

What the report neglects to mention is that almost all of the vendors who received TIF funds contributed money to Daley or Solis. In some cases the contributions were checks from the company. In other cases they were personal donations from company officers. Since 2004, for instance, Acme has donated $11,000 to the 25th Ward Regular Democrat Organization, whose president is Solis. Since 2001 V & V has donated $3,400 to Solis's organization and Rubin Brothers $4,050. If you broaden the count to include the developers building the condos on 18th Street, you see that Mota has contributed $31,150 to Solis's organization since 2004 and Kimball Hill $4,000. Cisneros sent a check for $2,500 on August 16, 2005, just a few months before he announced the condominium plans.

Of course, the money Solis and Daley got from the vendors is just a small part of the millions they've raised over the last six years. After his 2003 reelection Daley said he would no longer take contributions from contractors doing business with the city, though before this week's fund-raiser he had still managed to raise about $2 million. Solis has raised about $1.1 million over the last five years, about $70,000 of it from the TIF vendors alone.

ProTip 1: Always check the clips first.

ProTip 2: If Danny Solis says your mother loves you, check it out.

My work here is done for today.


Yogi Berra Was A World-Class Shill
From foot spray to cat food, he never met a product he wouldn't hawk.











The Beachwood Tip Line: Doi.


Posted on September 29, 2015

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