By Ben Meyerson
As time runs out to use River Forest's TIF funds for economic development, the village board is planning to push the deadline — extending the clock on the looming development at Lake and Lathrop.
This month, they'll take advantage of a wrinkle that will allow the village to hold onto at least some of the $5 million they've got in their TIF fund, by putting it into an escrow fund designated for a specific project.
That pool of money is set to expire on Dec. 31 and would have to be distributed to the schools, the park district, the library and anyone else entitled to the property taxes that have been skimmed by the TIF fund for more than 20 years.
However, village attorney Lance Malina has said that if the money is committed to a specific project when the TIF expires, the village can reserve that amount of cash.
Village President John Rigas said the board expects to have enough information about the Lake and Lathrop development proposal by their next meeting on Dec. 13 to draw up an agreement and set aside a fixed amount.
"At the next meeting, we expect to have a number and a strategy," Rigas said. "The project will still be subject to the development review process before we hand any money out."
While Rigas wouldn't share how much of the $5 million they were considering holding for Lake and Lathrop, whatever cash the board sets aside will probably be for three things, he said:
- Remediation and removal of the dry cleaning chemicals that are currently contaminating the property
- Bridging the gap between the value of the land itself and the value of the buildings on the land, since Lake and Lathrop developer Tim Hague has no use for the buildings currently on the property
- Possible leaseholder improvements to the property, since businesses such as restaurants require more construction to build out their spaces. That might be in the village's interest, Rigas said, since the village reaps an additional 1 percent sales tax from restaurants.
The board held a three-hour closed meeting Monday night to discuss the logistics of the Lake and Lathrop development, of which Hague attended roughly half. Leaving the closed session, Hague declined to comment on the project's status.
Before closing off the meeting, trustees Steve Hoke and Steve Dudek objected to discussing the project in secrecy any longer.
"We're a couple of weeks away from allegedly having to pull the trigger," Hoke said. "We'll be committing millions of dollars without the public ever having heard anything about it."
But Trustee Susan Conti argued the only way the board could expect to get any honest information from Hague, who has reportedly been negotiating with the people who currently own the buildings at Lake and Lathrop, was by going into executive session.
"I'm interested in hearing what the developer has to say, and the only way that's going to happen is in executive session," she said.
The board voted 4-2 to close the doors, with Hoke and Dudek dissenting.
The village may release some information on the projects before the Dec. 13 board meeting, Rigas said after the meeting.