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We can't Picture this: Tax breaks for downtown galleries

Monday, September 06, 2004
Special to suffredin.org
Editorial

Local Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin hopes his proposal to give a property-tax break to downtown Chicago art galleries spurs discussions on protecting pioneering businesses that get priced out of a gentrified neighborhood. Discussion would be OK: approval would not.

The discussion should steer the County Board away from tweaking the property-tax system and toward adding its voice to the chorus of those calling for a property-tax overhaul.

Nothing against Art Galleries. Our sympathy goes out to art galleries that are finding it hard to make their property-tax payments or their rent but our tax dollars should not go out to them.

The proposed tax break would have met galleries in an area bounded by Chicago Avenue on the north, Huron Street on the south, LaSalle Street on the east and Orleans Street on the west assessed at 16 percent, instead of the higher commercial level of 33.3 percent. A lower assessment classification would give art galleries a break compared to other area businesses. The proposal defines art galleries as business sell "original art. Not manufactured or commercially produced."

Suffredin argues for the proposal on economic and cultural grounds. The tax breaks would help preserve more than 60 art galleries that employ 200 people and generate $1.25 million in sales tax.

The early estimate is that tax break would shift $1 million off the tax galleries and onto the rest of the county's property taxpayers. It would be a small amount to be sure, spread among millions of County tax bills, but that doesn't make it a good idea or a fair idea.

This whole idea of providing a property-tax break for a category of business because rents increased sets a problematic precedent. Can one type of business really turn a neighborhood around? The factors that bring around neighborhood renewal are too complex to focus on the art galleries alone.

That some of these art galleries are renters exposes another flaw in the plan. If the landlords who rent to the art galleries get the tax break, there's no guarantee the savings would be passed on to tenants.

Art preservation is a worth while goal. Art enriches our lives in ways that cannot be calculated on property tax bill.

But if Suffredin wants discussion, our input would to give all property-taxpayers a break by getting the state to help local governments and the over-reliance on property taxes.



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