Emanuel wants developers to contribute to neglected neighborhoods

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Vanquished mayoral challenger Jesus “Chuy” Garcia hammered Mayor Rahm Emanuel for downtown-centric development that left Chicago neighborhoods behind.

Now, Emanuel has a plan to shed that “Mayor 1 percent” image and force downtown developers to share the wealth with impoverished inner-city neighborhoods plagued by vacant storefronts and dormant commercial strips.

Emanuel wants to let developers build bigger and taller downtown projects in exchange for what he claims will be “tens of millions of dollars” in contributions toward neighborhood improvements.

Currently, the city’s “Zoning Bonus Ordinance” allows downtown developers to build additional square footage if they agree to build underground parking garages, outdoor plazas, winter gardens and other features that benefit the project itself — but offer limited public benefits.

By eliminating those outdated bonuses and closing “loopholes,” the mayor now hopes to generate a pool of money that could be used to bankroll projects in long-neglected inner-city neighborhoods like Englewood, Auburn-Gresham and Garfield Park.

Revenue generated by the “neighborhood opportunity bonus” would be invested in a fund that could be used only to support business development and job growth in neighborhoods “facing poverty, high unemployment and other indicators of under-investment by the private market,” City Hall said, without defining those terms.

The new program is patterned after an affordable housing ordinance that requires developers to build affordable units or make hefty contributions to a fund that would be used to build affordable housing. And just like that ordinance, City Council approval would be required for specific projects after community input.

Reviving a dormant retail corridor or bringing a grocery story to a food desert are among projects that might be funded by the revamped bonus, City Hall said.

African-American voters helped elect Emanuel in 2011 and re-elected him in 2015 — even after the mayor closed a record 50 public schools.

Emanuel is now struggling to regain their trust after the public furor over his handling of the Laquan McDonald shooting video.

The mayor is obviously hoping that his plan to pay attention to long-neglected neighborhoods will help persuade black voters to give him a third chance.

“We are establishing a new norm in Chicago where our most thriving areas will help our most struggling neighborhoods,” Emanuel was quoted as saying in a press release.

“It involves looking at every investment we make in Chicago — public private and non-profit — through a neighborhood lens and having them meet a simple test: Do they also provide economic and job opportunities for residents from under-served neighborhoods. My goal is to ensure that every resident in every neighborhood has an opportunity to participate in the future we are building in Chicago,” he said in the release.

If approved by the City Council, Planning and Development Commissioner David Reifman said the new bonus system will “extend the benefits of a strong downtown to neighborhoods with unrealized potential.”

“It will generate funding to support businesses and residents and help distribute the benefits of downtown growth on a more equitable, neighborhood level,” Reifman was quoted as saying.

Using recent downtown construction trends, City Hall projects that the new bonus systemwould generate “tens of millions of dollars” for neighborhood investments over the next “several” years.

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