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Council Endorses Petition for New Tax Status of Howard Street Building

Wednesday, October 16, 2019
Evanston RoundTable
by Mary Helt Gavin

City Council members have approved a resolution endorsing a resident’s appeal to Cook County to change the tax status of a building he wishes to purchase on Howard Street. Should Mohamed Eldibany succeed in his appeal to the County, the building at 611-21 Howard St., would receive a Class 7a assessment. That designation, which runs for 12 years on the property, would reduce the assessment of the property, thus lowering the property taxes on the building.

If Dr. Eldibany receives the 7a status, the property would be assessed at 10% of the fair market value for the first 10 years of the 12-year incentive period, 15% of the fair market value in the 11th year and 20% in the final year. After the incentive period, the property, like all other non-incentivized property in Cook County, would be assessed at 25% of the fair market value.

At a special City Council meeting on Sept. 29, Alderman Ann Rainey, in whose Eighth Ward the property sits, gave several reasons she thought Council should endorse the appeal. She also said it was essential that Council act that evening because the delay would cost Dr. Eldibany more money if he did not purchase the property by Oct. 1. He would not go through with the purchase, she said, without Council’s endorsement of his tax appeal.

Much of the building has been vacant for about 19 years, Ald. Rainey said, although there has been a small Sherwin Williams paint store in one corner.

A memo from Community Development Director Johanna Leonard and Economic Development Manager Paul Zalmezak said Dr. Eldibany “intends to invest nearly $1 million” to renovate the building and turn it into an event space – adding about 50 temporary construction jobs.

When the event space is up and running, the memo said, the enterprise would generate up to 12 permanent jobs and about $55,000 in sales and liquor tax revenues from the some 130 events he projects would be held there annually.

Property tax revenues for the City during the “incentive” period when the business is open are estimated at $530,000 annually, of which the City would receive $90,000. Should Dr. Eldibany be unsuccessful in his appeal but proceed with his business, the property tax revenues would be about $1.2 million annually, with the City receiving $200,000 of that. Vacant, the building generates about $180,000 in property tax revenues, of which the City receives $30,000.

By email before and at the meeting, some residents objected to the lack of meaningful notice about the appeal. Ald. Rainey said, “This should have been on the Sept 16 agenda, but because of the heated discussion involved with [a similar appeal for] Hewn Bakery, we agreed put it on the [Sept. 25] Economic Development Committee agenda.

“The Economic Development Committee agenda was noticed on the City website. The world has had notice since Sept. 20.”

Mayor Stephen Hagerty said the item was put on the Sept. 30 agenda “because of the time-sensitive nature of the matter.”

Ald. Rainey said, “This building has crumbling plaster coming down from the ceiling. Every day somebody etches something on those windows. This building has been vacant for 19 years – you have to ask yourself why. Maybe one of the reasons is that it will cost over a million dollars to get it habitable.”

“The building was flipped,” Ald. Rainey added. “It sold for $400,000 and then was flipped to twice the price. … Dr. Eldibany can’t afford the taxes and the $1 million to get it up and running. … He has said he will hire Evanston residents.

“What this is going to do is keep events from going out to Skokie to the Evanston Golf Club. They’ve already got people scheduled.”

Ald. Rainey asked her colleagues to support Dr. Eldibany, and said the building “has been making a fool of Howard Street for 19 years.”

She also said that Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin said this property is a prime example of what a Class 7a designation should be and that he has sent a letter saying he would endorse the appeal.

Alderman Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward, said the Commissioner’s letter did not say he “endorsed” the appeal but that he had “no objection” to the appeal.

Mr. Suffredin forwarded to the RoundTable a copy of the letter he had sent to all Council members. The two-sentence letter states, “Alderman Ann Rainey asked me to review the proposed 7A site at 619 Howard St. I have no objection to the 7A at that location provided the City and the owner meets all the requirements of the Ordinance.”

The vote was 5-2 , with Aldermen Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, and Ald. Fleming voting “no.” Aldermen Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, and Thomas Suffredin, 6th Ward, did not attend the meeting.

Mr. Suffredin confirmed to the RoundTable that he had told Ald. Rainey that the Howard Street property is the type of property intended for the Class 7a status.

Because the Howard Street property is in the Howard-Ridge tax-increment financing (TIF) district, it has met the additional 7a qualification of being in a “blighted” area, he said. In a TIF district, the tax increment – the difference between the property tax revenues on the property as it is (the “base”) and as improved – remains in the TIF. Thus, the other taxing bodies with a stake in the property tax revenues receive only their share of the “base” property tax revenues during the 23-year life of the TIF.

The Howard-Ridge TIF expires in seven years, and for five years after that, if Dr. Eldibany receives the new tax designation, the property taxes may still be reduced.

The new designation and reduced property taxes do not affect the other taxing bodies with a stake in the property tax revenues, Mr. Suffredin says. The amounts of their levies will not be affected – everyone else will have to pay a little more, he said.

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