Just a handful of private-sector TIF projects approved in Austin over the last decade

by Ellyn Fortino on July 13, 2011

Out of the 184 private-sector projects authorized by the city to receive tax increment financing funds since 2000, Austin has had just four projects approved — despite being the most populated of Chicago’s 77 community areas.

And only one out of those four projects — the Coca-Cola distribution facility (see our related story here)  — has met its legal requirements in documents signed with the city, according to the Chicago Department of Housing and Economic Development.

No one from the Department of Housing and Economic Development, which oversees the TIF program, could shed light on why the three other projects are incomplete. Here’s what we know about those projects:

Brach’s Candy Redevelopment – In 2008, the project’s developer, ML Realty Partners, was authorized by the Chicago City Council to receive $10.6 million to complete an industrial facility at 401 N. Cicero Ave., the site of the former candy factory that stopped operations in 2004.

Weeds grow at the former Brach's Candy site. (Photo courtesy of North Avenue and Pulaski Road Historical Society)

The project, located in the Northwest Industrial Corridor TIF District and the 28th Ward just north of the Green Line Cicero stop has stalled. City officials say no money has been paid out to the developer.

There was some action at the site in August 2007, when part of the factory was blown up for scenes in “The Dark Knight” Batman movie, according to the Chicago Tribune. Director Chris Nolan used part of the vacant factory to create the Gotham General Hospital, which The Joker character destroys in the film.

Virgil Crawford, director of community organizing for the Westside Health Authority, becomes emotional when talking about the failed Brach’s project.

The vacant factory may have helped entertain the world in the movie, but it’s not helping anyone now, Crawford said; it’s just a vacant eyesore.

Brach's Candy once employed hundreds at its West Side facility. (Photo courtesy of North Avenue and Pulaski Road Historical Society)

He believes the property should be used for a public school, which would allow more Austin children to attend high school in their neighborhood instead of traveling to other parts of the city — or dropping out.

And it could lead to jobs for some of the West Side’s many unemployed: “Not just teachers, but even during the development stages, hundreds of jobs could have been created.

ML Realty Partners have since tried to lease out the property, but “there have been no takers,” Crawford said. “You got a developer that is sitting on prime property. It could be used to build a school there.”

ML Realty Partners did not respond to interview requests.

Lake and Waller Housing Development – The developer, Lake and Waller LLC, was approved in 2007 to receive $1.31 million to develop 41 residential units — 26 town homes and 15 condos – ranging in value from $181,500 to $395,000 in the general area of 420 and 445-457 N. Waller Ave., just west of the Green Line Central stop.

The agreement required that nine of the 41 units be affordable. The developer was to offer these units to qualified low- and middle-income residents. The nine, 2-bedroom affordable units were to be 1,183 square feet, and the market-rate town homes between 1,911 to 2,159 square feet.

As of last month, no money has been paid out for the project, which is located in the Madison/Austin TIF District and the 29th Ward.

Molly Sullivan, director of communications and community outreach for the Department of Housing and Economic Development, said Lake and Waller has been built for rentals, but could not specify which legal requirements were not met.

Erica Lorch, spokeswoman for Wolcott Real Property, said the company acquired 430 and 438 N. Waller Ave. and 5706 W. Lake St. — the building at the corner of Lake Street and Waller Avenue — from Lake and Waller LLC, but she could not provide any further information about the project either.

No one from Lake and Waller LLC could be reached for comment.

Loretto Hospital – The hospital, located at 645 S. Central Ave. in the 29th Ward and the Harrison/Central TIF District, was awarded $7.5 million in 2009 to renovate its 212-bed facility. According to information provided by the city, Loretto Hospital agreed to create and/or retain 10 jobs.

Loretto Hospital (Photo courtesy of Gage Consulting Engineers)

As of June 17, the hospital had received $500,000 of the TIF money. Sullivan said the hospital has not met all legal requirements because construction is ongoing.

Loretto Hospital CEO Steven Drucker did not return repeated phone calls for an interview.

This story is part of the Local Reporting Initiative, supported in part by The Chicago Community Trust.

austintalks.org@gmail.com

 

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