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Wilson Yard review shows progress post-2001

It’s time to walk down Memory Lane in the world of tax-increment financing. Go back with me to the turn of the century (that is, the Y2K era) and recall the debates in Uptown over the Wilson Yard TIF.

The TIF was a flashpoint of controversy that always reflected the underlying issue of rich vs. poor in Uptown. The TIF was set up mostly to support the redevelopment of old Chicago Transit Authority land on the west side of Broadway between Montrose and Wilson, called Wilson Yard.

When the TIF was proposed, liberal critics thought it would push out the poor. Conservative critics were afraid of an influx of subsidized housing. Some in the middle saw a chance for projects that would help economic diversity. They saw a chance for a TIF that would help the neighborhood instead of a few insiders.

The city has issued a report on the TIF’s effectiveness during its first years, from 2001 through 2011. It’s not surprising that the city, with the help of TIF consultant S.B. Friedman & Co., would laud Wilson Yard. But the results show that it’s been one of the more effective neighborhood-based TIFs in Chicago.

Consider that $62 million in TIF funds through 2011 brought in another $190.6 million for sundry projects. As a result, property values within the TIF grew at a compound annual rate of 9.4 percent, faster than the city as a whole, the report said.

Most of the higher valuation comes from Wilson Yard, now redeveloped with a Target and an Aldi, plus other stores and offices. The site also has gotten 80 apartments for families and 98 apartments for seniors, all with below-market rents.

The TIF also is funding renovation of other buildings, including Mercy Housing’s 280-unit building at 4946 N. Sheridan.

In 2012, the TIF generated $6.3 million in tax revenue for future projects, according to the Cook County clerk. In time, results like that could give the city an embarrassment of riches when interest groups are demanding that TIF surpluses be turned over to the schools.

But for now, the numbers add up to a financing mechanism that worked.