An effort by a West Lakeview merchants group to create a new park in the empty lot at the corner of Roscoe St. and Lincoln Ave., 3400 N. Lincoln Ave., was temporarily halted, if not killed, in a City Council committee last week. As a result, it seems more likely that the corner will be developed into condominiums and the merchant group has had its wings clipped by the city.
It all stems from an effort Special Services Area 27 (SSA 27), a group of West Lakeview businesses authorized by the city to collect a property tax levy to promote local enterprises, initiated last month to purchase the open lot in question, with the intention to turn it into a park space for performances and food trucks. The lot is currently owned by the Chicago Transit Authority, who plans to auction it in November to the highest bidder, so time is of the essence.
But in order to purchase the property, SSA 27 needed to change the city ordinance enabling their operation so they would have a new power: to own property. While SSAs around Illinois have this power, it would be revolutionary in Chicago, since Special Service Areas are mostly concerned with things like snow removal, street beautification and security or assisting existing businesses with facade improvements.
Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd), who represents the park area, opposed the SSA’s ability to purchase property.
“When we had the discussion in the [City Council] Finance Committee, I basically said, what’s going to happen if we allow SSAs to purchase property? We’re basically going allow people to outbid others by using the SSA’s money,” Ald. Waguespack told Roscoe View Journal. In addition, some downtown SSAs annually collect property tax levies in the tens of millions of dollars, a fund that could significantly influence city real estate markets.
“It was a broader policy position nobody in the city had talked about,” said Ald. Waguespack. “Until we have this broader conversation, I put in a substitute amendment to limit [SSA 27's ability to purchase property].”
Heather Way, who manages SSA 27 on behalf of the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce, says she understands the policy question, but thinks the city is missing a great opportunity to create a new park.
“We have the ways and means to develop dynamic communities with these funds,” said Way. “They are funding sources the city doesn’t have.”
Way says SSA 27 hasn’t given up yet, they can still try to raise private funds, but $1.15 million is needed to purchase and improve the property. And it needs to be secured before the CTA’s November property auction.
“We’re going to try,” Way said. “We have a board meeting next week to consider next steps.”