Where Franklin Street stretches from Brown to Harlem on the north side of town, village officials hope to make a series of cosmetic improvements using approximately $1.4 million in tax revenues that have been set aside specifically for the neighborhood. Shorter sections of Marengo, Elgin and Brown – all to the north of Franklin – would also be resurfaced, according to a preliminary plan that appears to have the support of council members.
Village Administrator Tim Gillian told the council during its Feb. 22 meeting that the community expects to see improvements in those areas where money is being allocated for such projects. Franklin runs through the heart of a special taxing district in Forest Park called the Brown Street TIF District, or tax increment financing district. Such areas are created to funnel tax revenues generated by the neighborhood directly back into the neighborhood.
Annually, the tax district generates $300,000 to $500,000 in revenues, according to Gillian. The total balance in the account is in excess of $3 million, and this project would be the first time village officials have spent any of the money generated within the district.
“At this point, I need some discussion,” Gillian said during Monday’s council meeting, asking elected officials to provide direction. No vote was taken, but Gillian was advised to come back with engineering plans in preparation of collecting construction bids this summer.
“Sounds like you got some general direction to move forward,” Mayor Anthony Calderone said.
The funding mechanism is common in Illinois and across the U.S., and Forest Park has several such taxing districts. Most often, the money is used to encourage private investments in an area that has been slow to develop. Gillian and council members said there is no specific potential project on the horizon that these infrastructure improvements would cater to.
The Brown Street TIF is bound on the east by Harlem, and on the west, roughly, by Brown Avenue. It extends north to the elevated rail tracks and south to Franklin.
Calderone reminded council members that there is a pending request from one business within the taxing district, Elite Tire, which could draw down the balance on the account. Also, the police department is considering installing a camera system in the area, and Chief Jim Ryan has said he would like to use TIF money to fund the project.
The aesthetics of the road work proposed by Gillian are its main selling point. The village intends to duplicate what was recently installed on Jackson and Harvard – stamped crosswalks, planter boxes and so-called sidewalk “bump outs” at each intersection. One alleyway will also be redone, and a minor water line along Marengo will be replaced.
Commissioner Mark Hosty said he “wholeheartedly agrees” with the scope of the proposal.
Potentially straining the TIF’s fund balance, too, is the long-discussed redesign of the nearby viaduct that crosses Harlem.
Commissioner Rory Hoskins questioned whether Forest Park should spend any money on relatively superficial projects if the village may someday be obligated to contribute to work on the viaduct. Others on the council agreed that Hoskins’ concern was logical, but pointed to the stagnant nature of that discussion. River Forest, Oak Park and the Chicago Transit Authority are potential collaborators on the viaduct.
“We’re 10 years into it already,” Calderone said of the protracted discussions.
Gillian said he recently attended a workshop with other stakeholders in the potential redesign of the viaduct. The transit agency, he said, will continue looking at this project for some time.
“This is another group that will study this problem for two to three years, literally, and determine how they can fund it,” Gillian said.
Upgrades: Within a taxing boundary detailed above, village officials hope to make several infrastructure improvements.
Courtesy village of Forest Park