Commercial property tax increase approved; the money will fund Magnificent Mile safety improvements along Michigan Avenue

After a relentless series of high-end thefts along Chicago’s main shopping street, a city council committee agreed Wednesday to raise commercial property taxes along North Michigan Avenue to fund security improvements.

Almost a year ago to the day, Mayor Lori Lightfoot called ‘alderman’s prerogative at its worst’ the decision of downtown council members to block plans for the tax district, known as of “special duty area”.

The mayor then argued that commercial properties fronting the Magnificent Mile were “suffering” after a dramatic drop in sales and foot traffic and that Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) and Brendan Reilly (42nd) were wrong to stop them taxing themselves to shore up their defenses.

On Wednesday, the Council’s Committee on Capital and Economic Development approved the business tax hike after opposition from Hopkins and Reilly waned.

A nearly empty sidewalk in Northern Michigan at Magnificent Mile, Monday, Dec. 14, 2020.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Reilly no longer slammed the “truncated, hurried and approved” creation of the tax district, or saying that a “significant portion” of the money generated from the tax hike would go towards “salaries, contracts, personnel and other expenses. operating.”

He said he and Hopkins opposed the tax district because of “concerns about the process, the engagement with stakeholders … the way the budget was developed and the priorities it details,” said Reilly.

“The Mag Mile Association and the Department of Planning did a very good job after that of properly socializing the plan, getting more buy-in from affected owners. And they also completely reworked their budget proposal, which now prioritizes investments in public safety over marketing events and programming.

Reilly said that’s why he now supports this tax district, calling it “short-term” and an “interim effort to provide immediate assistance” and “significant investments in security” along the main trade corridor. from the city.

“After that, the hope is that the city can persuade the General Assembly to pass legislation on the business improvement district because, frankly, I think it’s a much more powerful economic tool with better governance. “, did he declare.

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 year on the perennial taxable value of the taxable property.

It is expected to bring in around $742,000 a year, with around $472,000 of that going to public safety initiatives.

Shoppers flocked to North Michigan Avenue the day after Thanksgiving this year - a year after the premier shopping district was hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

Shoppers flocked to North Michigan Avenue the day after Thanksgiving this year – a year after the premier shopping district was hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Hopkins agreed that the now-revised “initial presentation” did not prioritize the budget in a way that “local residents and businesses ‘insist’ on”.

“What started as an objection to the process actually improved the end product dramatically in terms of prioritization of public safety measures and other improvements in the community,” he said.

Hopkins pointed to ideas being advanced by the Urban Land Institute to reinvent Northern Michigan at a time when vacancy rates are over 20%.

As Sun-Times columnist David Roeder reported this week, these ideas include: introducing Parisian-style cafes and one-of-a-kind independent boutiques; build a pedestrian bridge to Oak Street Beach and create better connections to Navy Pier.

Other possibilities include dividing the mile-long shopping district into branded sections, including one that mixes show business and retail.

“Obviously, there is a price to pay for all the good ideas that emerge from this process. Many of them are exciting. Many of them are convincing. A lot of them, at least initially, I’m ready to support them,” Hopkins said.

“But it always begs the question, ‘How are you going to pay for these good ideas?’ And something like this SSA may 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 criticism, Hopkins said, “While there was some frustration” with the delay, it was “in an effort to significantly improve this proposal, which has been accomplished. I am very satisfied with the result. It was a year worth waiting for.

Chicago Police stand guard on the Magnificent Mile and the Michigan Avenue Bridge over the Chicago River is lifted after looting broke out overnight in the Loop and surrounding neighborhoods, Monday morning August 10, 2020. |

The Michigan Avenue Bridge over the Chicago River at the south end of the Magnificent Mile had been raised in August 2020 after looting broke out in the Loop and other neighborhoods.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

A year ago, Hopkins wasn’t so diplomatic.

He responded to Lightfoot’s remark about “Aldermanic prerogative at its worst” by accusing the mayor of trying to “achieve a dictatorial rule of Chicago” that was stalled “not because of Aldermanic 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 fast,” Hopkins said that day.

Penny D. Jackson