Harlem Ave viaduct

Forest Park’s Village Council unanimously approved the legal steps that will pave the way for the creation of a new, less residential iteration of the Brown/Harlem tax increment financing district.

The old TIF, which is also known as Brown Street Station TIF, is set to expire at the end of the year. The village originally tried to get an extension of that TIF in order to get funding for several major capital projects – most notably, redoing the CTA/Metra railroad viaduct bridge over Harlem Avenue. Because the Illinois General Assembly didn’t approve the extension last spring, the village decided to create a new, similar-looking TIF instead of risking running out of time to complete the legal steps necessary to make the extension happen. 

Monday’s vote schedules a public hearing on the proposed TIF for Nov. 13 at 6:45 p.m. It will take place at the village hall right before the scheduled 7 p.m. village council meeting, where the TIF is expected to get final approval. TIF-related documents are available upon request at the village clerk’s office. Residents can also chime in at the Sept. 27 Joint Review Board meeting, which will include representatives from all affected taxing bodies and will be held at the village hall at 11 a.m.

The newly minted Harlem/Circle TIF will largely correspond to the Brown/Harlem TIF boundaries. The major differences are most residential buildings that are part of the current TIF would not be part of the new TIF, and it would include a larger portion of the Harlem Avenue commercial corridor, reaching all the way down to Madison Street.

When a TIF is created, the amount of property tax revenue the village, school districts, park district and other taxing bodies will receive is frozen, with future increases in taxes collected from the district going into the TIF fund. The creation of the new TIF would reset the amount the taxing bodies get to 2023 levels, and the $4 million in uncommitted TIF funds from the Brown/Harlem TIF will be “ported” over to the Harlem/Circle TIF.

Forest Park is hoping to use the TIF to fund several projects in the northeast corner of Forest Park, including paying a share of redoing the Harlem Avenue railroad bridge along with Oak Park and River Forest, demolishing the water tower in the nearby CTA railyard and replacing lead pipes in that area. Replacing the bridge has long been a priority for Forest Park mayor Rory Hoskins and his counterparts in Oak Park and River Forest, who feel that the bridge doesn’t accommodate modern trucks and creates bottlenecks and safety hazards. While the Union Pacific Railroad owns the bridge, it isn’t willing to foot most of the bill.

Like all Illinois municipalities, Forest Park is required to replace its lead pipelines — something the village has been trying to find grants to pay for. The TIF funding can be used to pay for replacing them within the TIF boundaries, since it would qualify as infrastructure improvement.