As the Economic Development Commission starts assessing how to help expand River Forest's business base, it is exploring all potential options to attract new businesses as well.
Toward that end, the newly-formed panel will conduct a feasibility study to determine if the Madison Street and North Avenue corridors qualify to become tax increment financing districts.
A recommendation for the study, which may come before River Forest trustees in February, will become one tool in a "tool box" to bring business here, commission chair Thomas Hazinski said.
"We want to see if the option is available," Hazinski said.
No timeline has been set yet for the study.
Trustees would have to approve all of the commission's efforts. But even if the areas qualify for incentives to aid development, that doesn't mean TIFs would be formed, Village Administrator Eric Palm said.
"Outside of the policy decision, we'd have to have conversations about that with the other taxing bodies and give them a sense of our intent," Palm said. "TIFs can have an effect on their budgets as well."
Non-financial incentives for development could also be explored, Hazinski said.
A TIF is a specially designated district used as a means of spurring economic revitalization by dedicating the sales tax and additional property tax revenues generated above a certain fixed point for improvements within that area.
The critical piece is whether the areas qualify. To meet the criteria, an district must have dilapidated or deteriorating property or declining assessments, according to TIF Illinois, a coalition of firms specializing in the use of TIFs and other business-incentive tools to stimulate economic development.
According to TIF Illinois, projects that qualify as part of a TIF include:
Redevelopment of substandard, obsolete, or vacant buildings.
Financing general public infrastructure improvements, including streets, sewer, water, and the like, in declining areas.
Cleaning up polluted areas.
Improving the viability of downtown business districts.
Providing infrastructure needed to develop a site for new industrial or commercial use.
Rehabilitating historic properties.
The baseline for any economic development is the Corridor Study, which outlines the village's long-range plan for improvement, redevelopment, beautification and overall revitalization.
An important anchor along Madison — one of those corridors — is the long-shuttered Hines Lumber property. Back in September, trustees decided to send on to the Development Review Board a proposal to turn the 2-acre site into low-density housing. A proposal has not yet come back to the village, Palm said.
The principal anchor on North Avenue would be the former Dominick's, which is high on the village's list for redevelopment. There's no progress on securing a new tenant for the site, and Hazinski said the commission will reach out to Safeway, which has the lease on the property for another 3 1/2 years, and Mid-America Real Estate Group, which has oversight of the property.
The lone TIF district in River Forest was created in the early 1990s and took in an area along Lake Street between Harlem and Thatcher avenues. Town Center 1 and 2 and village hall were built as part of that.
Most of those funds have been distributed to other River Forest taxing districts. But $1.9 million still sits in an economic development fund set up for Keystone Ventures to buy property in the area of Lake Street and Lathrop Avenue, clean up the site and offer incentives to bring in tenants.
As part of an agreement with the village, Tim Hague, president of Keystone Ventures, must use the funds by November or it will be divvied up among the other taxing districts. That deal was struck before the Lake-Lathrop TIF expired in 2010.
Palm said discussions with Hague are continuing.