South of the streetscapes, boutiques, bars and restaurants on Madison Street is a parallel stretch of road that many feel is in need of a major facelift.
The commercial strip of Roosevelt Road between Desplaines Avenue and Harlem Avenue sits in what some view as the forgotten part of town.
Rory Hoskins, incumbent commissioner of accounts and finances, is proposing that Forest Park join an existing Enterprise Zone. Such zones are a state program created to spur economic development through the use of various tax exemptions and abatements. If businesses invest within an Enterprise Zone or expand at their existing locations, they can be eligible for tax breaks. Each zone varies in terms of size, incentives and how it is administered.
In conversations with the Forest Park Review, Hoskins first suggested joining an existing zone that covers the entire village of Maywood.
Village Administrator Tim Gillian did not dismiss the concept but said that finding a cooperative approach to working with another municipality’s Enterprise Zone would likely offer challenges.
“The Enterprise Zone is one of a number of business development tools that we use to encourage businesses to invest and expand in the state, and to help us remain competitive,” wrote Marcelyn Love, communications manager for the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, in an e-mail.
“If you don’t [offer incentives], they won’t come,” said Mary Schmidt, administrator of the multiple-town CAL-SAG Enterprise Zone, which comprises Alsip, Blue Island, Calumet Park, Dixmoor and Robbins. “They’ll go somewhere else. … People have always been looking at incentives.”
“Adding parts of the Roosevelt Road corridor into an existing Enterprise Zone will make the area more attractive to investors, and I think that the development occurring just east of our border will stimulate activity in our town,” Hoskins said in an e-mail.
The program tries to lure businesses by offering a number of potential breaks, some of which have stricter requirements than others. An investment tax credit and a sales tax exemption are two incentives that are most likely for potential investors in Forest Park, Hoskins said.
The former gives developers a statewide exemption on the sales tax on building materials, and the latter offers investors a .05 percent credit on their income tax.
The more specified exemptions include equipment and pollution-control facilities sales tax exemptions, utility tax exemptions, and a jobs tax exemption.
Based on the state’s eligibility criteria, it’ll be easier for Forest Park to join an existing Enterprise Zone, Hoskins said.
In order to become a part of an existing zone, a village needs to meet one of the requirements outlined in the state’s Enterprise Zone Act of 1982. In Forest Park’s case that might be its neighboring proximity to, say, Maywood – the village’s contiguous location satisfies one requirement. If Forest Park officials are able to court a business to invest within the proposed area of expansion, Hoskins thinks it will also be easier to pitch the idea to Maywood and the state. A business that already exists in the zone can also take advantage of the benefits by expanding at the location.
“I’ve seen annexations take place on the basis of the revitalization of a corridor,” he said. Hoskins worked for the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity for six years.
A community could qualify to join an enterprise zone based on blight and poverty as well.
If Forest Park were to join a neighboring Enterprise Zone, the villages would have to convene and come to some type of terms, an application to the state would have to be filled out, and then a public hearing would need to be held to discuss the proposal.
It’s easier said than done, said Gillian.
“Maywood would want a fair amount of stuff,” Gillian said. “[Forest Park] would have to have a very definite project; it would have to include how many jobs were going to be created; it would have to be almost shovel ready.”
Gillian also said Maywood might want a certain number of jobs, new residents and new homes guaranteed as part of the expansion of their zone. One of the requirements to change Enterprise Zone boundaries is that “the proposed addition provides an immediate benefit to the established Enterprise Zone and its residents within two years.
“Maywood would want some fairly huge givebacks from our village,” Gillian said. “I’m certainly not saying it could not be done, but it would be a project, let’s just say that.”
“We can work that out. … There are certain things we do better in Forest Park than our neighbors do,” Hoskins said. “First we have to decide that we want to be a part of the [Maywood] zone.”
Initially, Hoskins suggested that Maywood’s zone could be expanded into Forest Park. He said he knows Maywood’s zone administrator, Angela Smith. After the Review looked into investments in Maywood through its Enterprise Zone, and shared with Hoskins some of the findings, he suggested Cicero’s zone as an alternative.
Only in two of the last six fiscal years did Maywood’s Enterprise Zone – created in 1988 – bring in any investments and no jobs for locals resulted. According to the state’s annual financial reports on the program, Maywood captured a total of $7.7 million between fiscal years 2005 and 2010. That money came from just two investments: a $28,756 project in FY ’06, and a $7.7 million deal in FY ’08. But no jobs were created in Maywood subsequent to either of those two investments. During that same time frame, $16,197,636 was invested through the program in Cicero over two separate fiscal years. But just as with Maywood, not a single job was created for Cicero residents as a result. For several years, no money was invested through the Cicero program.
Smith did not return several phone calls over the course of two days.
“[The Enterprise Zone is] part of our incentive list that we provide” investors, said Laurie Sommers, director of Community Development for the Village of Maywood.
Bob Haralambotoulos is the owner of Maywood Market, 615 S. 5th Ave., which opened its doors last year after completing a $3.5 million project. Although the Village of Maywood provided him with $1.5 million in TIF money, he said it’s “not right” that neither Smith – whom he said he dealt with directly – nor anyone in the village told him about the benefits of the Enterprise Zone.
“I feel bad, honest to God,” he said. “Small things can make big progress.”
When asked why Haralambotoulos was not told about the program, Sommers said she wasn’t sure because the development started before she began working for the Village of Maywood two years ago.
It is not clear if Smith would retain her position as administrator if Maywood’s Enterprise Zone expanded into Forest Park. As administrator, she could potentially be in charge of overseeing Forest Park’s portion of the zone as well. What’s more, the Village of Maywood pays her salary, and it is unclear whether Forest Parkers would have to kick in, should the zone be expanded into Forest Park and she retained her position.
“Not knowing what project they’re proposing … there’s a lot of questions to be answered – and asked for that matter,” Sommers said. “Ultimately it would come down to [Maywood], what we wanted to do.”
Sommers added that she didn’t know if the expansion would be possible.
“You need to have some dialogue with those people. … Otherwise this is all campaign talk,” said Schmidt. “If this is something that could be good for the community, it would be good to get in touch with someone in Maywood.”
“What we’re looking at is a tool. … It’s not about a person. … If we have this tool … we wouldn’t have to rely on Maywood,” said Hoskins, when asked if a partnership with Maywood’s Enterprise Zone team could be problematic. He said Forest Park would lure investors on its own.
“We can work that out,” Hoskins said.
In a later e-mail, he added, “When a zone is used properly, it can be a powerful tool for attracting new investment.”