Public Watchdog.org

Let’s Make A Deal: The Higgins Corridor Version

03.10.08

From what we’ve seen in Park Ridge and some other suburbs we have come to the conclusion that government bureaucrats are pretty inept, if not totally clueless, when it comes to the nuts and bolts of private real estate development.  And for the most part, the elected officials don’t seem measurably better. 

Unfortunately for us taxpayers who foot the bills, that doesn’t stop them from pretending to understand development and throwing our money at it.  That’s why some of those bureaucrats and elected officials from the City’s Planning & Zoning Commission will meet tonight (7:30 at City Hall) to kick off what the City has already started hyping as the “Higgins Corridor” redevelopment – and what already has the appearance of another one of those “we’ll get our money back in 10-20 years” boondoggles. 

Tonight’s featured dog-and-pony show will be the “Higgins Road Corridor: Findings Report” [.PDF] by Camiros, Ltd. (“Camiros”) and Valerie S. Kretchmer Associates, Inc. (“Kretchmer”), who were retained by the City to the tune of $50,000 ($25,000 of which appears to have come from a matching state grant obtained by State Sen. Dan Kotowski) to help prepare a “plan” for the approximately 30-acre stretch of Higgins Road between Dee on the west and Canfield on the east.  And perhaps because the City has hired Kretchmer in the past – she was paid to come up with reasons to fill the Library Block with retail – she has also thrown in a separate “Market Assessment for the Higgins Road Corridor.” [.PDF]

If you have a few minutes you might actually want to take a look at these two documents on the City’s website, if only to see how little real substance you get for $50,000 these days: A lot of canned data, the same map reproduced several times only with different colored areas, and some wishy-washy opinions that seem only slightly more believable than a tea-leaf reading. 

What these reports amount to, as we see it, are a sales pitch for Mr. K’s Garden Center (2.2 acres) and, to a lesser degree, the former Budget-Rent-A-Car site (.73 acres).  Well, not exactly a sales pitch – more like a buying pitch that will ultimately become an argument for the City’s throwing a lot of money in the direction of the owners of those two properties, either by buying those properties outright (can you say “Bredemann”?) or by “facilitating” their sale with taxpayer dollars (can you say “Napleton”?).

Interestingly enough, neither Camiros nor Kretchmer identified any real impediments to private developers purchasing one or more parcels in the Corridor and formulating their own development plan that could be presented to the Council for approval.  After all, no matter what the City thinks or does, it’s going to be the developers putting up the cash who will ultimately call the tune on any Higgins Corridor redevelopment, just like it was PRC who called the tune on Uptown’s Target Area II and Park Ridge 2004 LLC who did the same with Executive Office Plaza.

So why did we pay $50,000 for the Study?

Because the City’s bureaucrats, Mayor Frimark, and his Alderpuppets all need “cover” for any new giveaways to developers, especially in view of the flak that they’ve been catching over the recent zoning giveaway at Executive Office Plaza and the potential $2.4 Million giveaway to Napleton.  So they order up some reports and opinions from bought-and-paid-for “experts” and hope that all of us dumb taxpayers will be dazzled by such insights as that the Higgins Corridor “is heavily trafficked and congested during rush hour,” and that one of its attractive qualities is “its access to the CTA’s Blue Line Train at Cumberland Avenue, which travels from Chicago to O’Hare Airport” (Camiros report, at page 12).  Wow!

We don’t know whether Camiros is providing the dog and Kretchmer the pony, or vice versa.  But we’ve seen this movie before with Uptown Redevelopment, only with a different group of animal trainers in the starring roles.  And as best as we can tell from the questionable information the City has made available about Uptown, we’re still years away from even achieving a positive cash flow on that project, and many more years away from retiring the debt we undertook to sell Uptown to PRC.

But tonight’s meeting will be yet another sign to the development community that Park Ridge is open for business.  Mayor Frimark’s already wearing his Monty Hall “Let’s Make A Deal” jacket, and Economic Development Director Kim Uhlig is an acceptable stand-in for “the lovely Carol Merrill.”

Too bad it’s our tax dollars behind Door Nos. 1, 2 and 3.

8 comments so far

You’re absolutely right. THis is how these things always start (“We haven’t made and decisions, we’re just getting some ideas from the experts who know this stuff”)

As I think has been said on this site before, if businesses want to be in Park Ridge they would be coming to city hall and inquiring. If we have to hunt them down and dangle carrots all over the place to get them interested, maybe we just aren’t that attractive to them. So what?

Well that’s just terrific. Before we are out of the TIF debt hole from one project, they want to start another one.

Doesn’t Kretchmer have something to do with the old EDC group? The group who had members that screwed up getting a new police station some years back?

Where are you getting this TIF business from, Sunshine? Has anybody already talked about another TIF, or is that just speculation? That would be another nightmare for Dist. 64, and the people over there already show scary movies to each other right before bedtime the way it is.

Hoover,

Posting haste! My apologies. I did not intend to convey the meaning you seem to have understood.

I only meant to say they are looking to begin another development project before finishing up the last one. My meaning was not meant to be specific to talk of another TIF nor speculation about such talk.

But now I am willing to speculate that I would not be surprised if the community were to be told in the very near future that TIF is the way to go because no developers want to develop on Higgins without assistance from the City. Assistance being money, which will mean more City expenditures of money and probably bond debt with or without a TIF district at Higgins.

I’ve heard the Uptown TIF won’t be in the black for another 15 years.

Anonymous on 03.10.08 4:59 pm:

The City has been exceptionally close-mouthed about actual facts and figures. Before he left (good riddance), City Mgr. Tim Schuenke trotted out a fresh set of “projections” which suggested the TIF might be generating positive cash flow by 2010.  But for those who watched Schuenke throughout his career, he was constantly pulling facts and figures of dubious value out of some warm dark private place and handing them out at the eleventh hour; so who knows? 

But as we understand it, even if those projections are accurate that’s just on a going-forward operating basis which does not address all of the debt the City has incurred in connection with the TIF. Of course, Schuenke is gone (good riddance), so he can never be held accountable for those projections or for the TIF itself.

City Planning commission needs to work the priorities. The City (taxpayers) spent xx,xxx dollars 2-4 years ago on consultants to prepare the “Dee Park” Market and land use study. This was presented to the Planning commission with little public official comment since. This document also has lots of color pages with little real impact. (TINSTAF Their is no such thing as a free lunch)

With property values on the decline not sure it is prudent to assume additional debt. Exiting bond holders may get nervous. Conclusion new TIF districts are either dead or should be.

I thought I read a story about somebody doing a TIF financial analysis that shows they aren’t all that lucrative for the communities that have them.

But like the poster above who talked about the bond market investors being nervous, I’m nervous about all the new homes being added to our housing market in Park Ridge.



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