Final plan for Martin Avenue streetscape wins praise, but question arises about funding

The final plan for the $1.2 million Martin Avenue Public Space project took a step forward Tuesday, Dec. 9, when Homewood trustees unanimously approved the proposal. However, a question about tax increment financing cast some doubt on its future.

An overhead view of improvements
planned for Martin Avenue north
of Ridge Road to Chestnut Road.

(Image courtesy of Lakota Group
and the Village of Homewood)

Scott Freres, president of The Lakota Group, the company hired by the village to create the plan, characterized the design as "tasteful, simple ... not ostentatious" and emphasized that the group placed priority on practicality and frugality in addition to beauty for the final design.

He said designers had worked closely with businesses and with village public works officials to make the design fit the Martin Avenue terrain. 

Village Public Works Director John Schaefer gave his blessing to the plan, noting that it included features that would help his department maintain the improvements and would improve facilities for village events. He cited, for example, that electrical cables would be placed in curb channels rather than having to run across pavement.

Freres said features of the plaza north of Ridge Road would borrow architectural accents from Village Hall to give the public space a consistent look.

The updated plan itself received praise from all the trustees. 

"I think it's a home run. I love it," Trustee Jay Heiferman said, though he expressed hope the cost could be reduced as the project proceeds.

Even Anne Colton, the lone dissenter when the plan was before the board in the spring, had praise for the revision.

"I'm not the biggest fan, but you guys listened. You addressed everything," she said. "I'm really happy."

Colton said last week that her concerns with the project remain. Her criticism was not with the features of the design but with timing and funding of the project. She had hoped the village would take time to explore other options than tax increment financing to pay for the project.

And it was a question about TIF funding requirements that threw a shadow over the proceedings Tuesday. 

Trustee Ray Robertson also agreed the plan looked good, but he asked whether the Dec. 31 expiration of the downtown TIF district was an issue. 

The boundaries of the Central
Business District TIF, set to 
expire Dec. 31.
(Image 
courtesy of the Village of 
Homewood)

TIF is a method of financing economic revitalization in blighted areas or areas at risk of blight, according to information on the Cook County website. After a municipality demonstrates that an area meets state requirements for a blight designation, a baseline equalized assessed value of property in the district is established. As property values rise, tax revenues above the baseline rate go into a fund for use in financing improvements. Money can be used for projects that, for example, improve public infrastructure, create private developments or create jobs.

When a TIF district expires, unspent money in the fund is distributed back to taxing agencies that would have received the revenue if not for the TIF fund.

Village Attorney Chris Cummings said he was worried the project might not qualify for TIF funds if it isn't completed before the district expires. The original plan was to complete work this year, he said.

"I have to go back to the books and look at it," he said, referring to TIF regulations. "From a legal standpoint, I want to make sure we're on solid ground before we go on with this."

Village Manager Jim Marino said he believed the project would qualify for TIF funding because it had been approved and design completed before the district expired.

"It was my understanding that ... as long as we were in process before the end of the year, then we were fine," Marino said.

Cummings said he would do more research and provide an opinion.

An overhead view of the design
for Martin Avenue from Ridge
Road south to Homewood 
Florist.
(Image courtesy of 
Lakota Group and the Village
of Homewood)

Freres said the construction drawings are being developed and could be ready by the end of the month in order to start the bid process. 

Two citizens who have been following the project since spring, when it was first considered by the board, said they have concerns about additional costs built into the final design plan.

John Blasgen and Jim Collins spoke with Hofeld after the meeting to ask about the approximately 50 percent increase in the project budget from the version discussed in the spring. 

"When I see closts go from $800,000 to $1.2 million, I want to know what's going on," Collins said.

Both said they were very interested in improvements downtown and want to see empty storefronts filled and more support for local business, but they expressed concern that the village is rushing the project to get TIF funding.

Marino said the additional costs were the result of extending the streetscape further south and adding features based on discussions in the spring. 

The new budget includes a $985,590 for the main project costs, plus 15 percent for contingencies and 10 percent for mobilization, the costs incurred by contractors for bringing in equipment and setting up the construction site, according to Freres.

More information:
Martin Avenue Public Space Project
TIFs 101: A Taxpayers Primer for Understanding TIFs
Homewood TIF programs


Contact Eric Crump at [email protected]
 

An artist's rendering of the
Martin Avenue pedestrian plaza
looking north from Ridge Road.

(Image courtesy of Lakota 
Group and the Village of 
Homewood)

 

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