2006 | Chicago Reader at Forty | Chicago Reader

2006 

The year in Chicago history via the pages of the Reader

"I would just as soon downplay the fact we're not in Chicago, because I think, psychologically, if you know the show is coming from Chicago it gives you a nice feeling—and not just if you're from Chicago. People around the country tell me that's part of the show's charm. It's not coming from New York, Los Angeles, Washington. It comes from a place that most broadcasting isn't done from."

—Ira Glass to Hot Type, on This American Life's move to New York City

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The TIF obsession of Ben Joravsky

Public opinion held that Tax Increment Finance districts were both a useful tool of development and way too complicated for the likes of you and me to understand. Ben Joravsky thought otherwise. An occasional critic of TIFs in years gone by, in 2006 Joravsky doubled down. He hammered at TIFs in 24 of his weekly columns, including every single column he wrote In October and November. Public opinion began to shift.

The issue is tax increment financing—apparently Daley's favorite program and for good reason. Intended to spur development in blighted communities that would otherwise get no investment, the TIF program is so riddled with loopholes that any community can qualify (which is why the Loop has one TIF and is about to get another), and Daley gets to spend the proceeds pretty much any way he wants. There's no annual TIF budget or independent oversight, TIF revenues aren't itemized on property tax bills, the program claims $400 million (and rising) a year in property taxes, and most taxpayers don't even know it exists.

Each TIF is recommended by Daley and approved by the City Council. If the aldermen had any guts they'd rein in the program, but they know how much Daley likes it—"it's untouchable," one north-side alderman told me. So they back off.

It's left to the county commissioners to take a stand. Why them? To understand the answer you have to know a little about how TIFs work—don't worry, I'll keep it brief. TIFs are districts where property taxes flowing to taxing bodies such as the schools, parks, and county are frozen. If those taxing bodies got $10,000 out of a TIF district when it was created, that's pretty much all they'll get until the TIF expires in 23 years. The additional property tax revenues generated by rising assessments and new development are immediately rebated by the taxing bodies back to the TIF district, which is controlled by Daley and the local aldermen (provided they're well behaved). The more TIFs the city makes, the fewer the properties the taxing bodies can draw added revenue from. Thus, the schools and parks must raise their tax rates even more to compensate for the money they're losing to the TIFs.

Now you can understand why Daley likes TIFs so much. It's all about control. Daley gets hundreds of millions of dollars, and the other guys get blamed for raising taxes. Afterward, the mayor tells the public he's holding the line on property taxes. —"Repeat After Me: TIFs Are Great"

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(Six years later, it's still not open)

"This has been the most agonizing chapter of my entire life," says Museum of Broadcast Communications founder and president Bruce DuMont. The museum is currently operating out of a temporary office with a view of the stalled construction site where its new permanent home was supposed to open this year. A former parking garage at the corner of State and Kinzie, the building has already gone through the first leg of a $21 million makeover that would transform it into a glassy, four-story tourist attraction. The contractor, Pepper Construction, completed a new roof for the 70,000-square-foot structure but then halted work just over a month ago, saying it couldn't do anything else until it's paid the $3 million owed on the job so far. That's just the amount DuMont is waiting to receive from the state. "I'm twisting in the wind," he says. "I feel like a piñata." —Deanna Isaacs, "The Business"

(or even on the horizon)

The Park District's Theater on the Lake was the perfect setting for last week's run of Curious Theatre Branch's tribute to Samuel Beckett, No Danger of the . . . Spiritual Thing. Beckett himself couldn't have dreamed up a more dismal environment: walls of chain-link fencing, pools of hideous yellow light, an abandoned mop and pail in one corner, and the continuous din of rushing traffic. And that was all before you got to the auditorium . . .

Improvements to the theater's facilities were announced last year, and the Park District paid Morris Architects $153,000 to draw up plans. But the proposed renovation, which would bring improved seating, soundproofing, lighting, and air-conditioning, as well as additional space for the restaurant, carries a price tag of $6 million, money that will need to be raised from private sources . . . —Deanna Isaacs, "The Business"

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