In the City Council meeting held today, the council voted to enact two ordinances approving new TIF projects.  The approved proposals authorize the spending of $6.2 million in TIF funds— $1 million for a new boathouse in the North Branch and $5.2 million for a hotel in Hyde Park.   With so much taxpayer money being spent, one would expect a transparent and thorough analysis of the projects to ensure they are worthwhile.  But for the most part, specifics are unavailable to the public.

Construction of the new boathouse, in the Addison Corridor (North) TIF district, is projected to cost a total of $7.4 million.  The Community Development Commission Staff Report for the project is not currently available on the City of Chicago website, so details regarding the specifics of the agreement are unknown.

The hotel, which will be built on 5223 S. Harper Ave. in the 4th Ward and the 53rd Street TIF District, is projected to cost $28.6 million.  Although the Community Development Commission Staff Report on the City of Chicago website allots only $2.1 million of TIF funds for the project and promises 21 permanent (and 150-200 temporary construction) jobs, reports on the ordinance passed Wednesday state allotments of $5.1 or $5.2 million in TIF resources and Alderman Burns (4th Ward) claimed that the creation of 30 permanent jobs could be anticipated resulting from the project. The project is intended to provide a multitude of public benefits, including increased property taxes and increased employment (at least half of whom must be Chicago residents).

So how good are these projects?

Without many details on the boathouse project, it is difficult to ascertain how valuable the project will be for the City.  Yet it is worth noting that the project will take place in one of the more affluent neighborhoods of Chicago (with a median household income of over $75,000 in 2009), doing little to alleviate concerns that TIF money is being over-used in relatively wealthy areas. 

The Hyde Park hotel project is better in its focus on a financially-troubled neighborhood, and the construction could facilitate future economic growth in the region.  However, little information is available on how the City plans to regulate and enforce the conditions of the report, and 21 permanent jobs for $5.2 million is less productive than other past TIF projects in terms of job creation alone.

Perhaps the most glaring concern regarding the passage of new TIF proposals is the lack of information available to the public regarding the projects.  Other than general financing information and the location of the project, no details are available on the new boathouse.  Additionally, much of the information released on the hotel in Hyde Park is inconsistent or incomplete. 

Today, up to $6.2 million of taxpayer money was allotted to the projects despite taxpayers’ extremely limited access to see how our money is being spent.  This blatant absence of sufficient information remains the primary roadblock inhibiting efforts to expand transparency in the TIF system.