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Mayor Rahm Emanuel has earmarked $16 million in special tax money to try to jump-start the fortunes of struggling shopping areas in eight neighborhoods on the South, Southwest and West sides, the city announced Tuesday.The Thrive Zones program will rely on...

Emanuel sets new retail grant program for struggling shopping areas

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has earmarked $16 million in special tax money to try to jump-start the fortunes of struggling shopping areas in eight neighborhoods on the South, Southwest and West sides, the city announced Tuesday.The Thrive Zones program will rely on...

Emanuel sets new retail grant program for struggling shopping areas

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has earmarked $16 million in special tax money to try to jump-start the fortunes of struggling shopping areas in eight neighborhoods on the South, Southwest and West sides, the city announced Tuesday.

The Thrive Zones program will rely on money raised in tax increment financing districts to pay for $9 million in grants businesses can apply for to rehab buildings within the retail districts. The city is set to partner with local chambers of commerce and community groups to give out up to $7 million more to pay for infrastructure upgrades like new streetlights, as well as business programs to help entrepreneurs succeed in those areas, according to Emanuel's office.

The commercial corridors targeted in the program are all in neighborhoods with large minority populations: Austin, Back of the Yards, Bronzeville, Chatham, Englewood, South Shore, West Humboldt Park and West Pullman.

Black and Latino aldermen have long complained about a lack of attention and money from the city to keep up their once-bustling local shopping districts. While the Thrive Zones program might not have enough money to reverse commercial decline in some of the city's toughest neighborhoods, it gives Emanuel a chance to hand out contracts and build alliances in these areas. And it could give him something else to mention to counter criticism that he cares most about the success of downtown and other wealthier neighborhoods.

TIF money can be controversial as the city and Chicago Public Schools make cuts and raise taxes to make ends meet. For up to 23 years, the special districts freeze the level of tax payments from properties within specified borders. As the value of the properties therein increases, the money that would usually go to higher tax payments toward government budgets instead goes to a fund to pay for local improvements.

Critics have decried the TIF districts as mayoral slush funds. Emanuel repeatedly has declared TIF money not dedicated to specific projects as surpluses, returning tens of millions of dollars to the general fund budgets of the school district and other government entities.

The Emanuel administration also announced this week that it would accept applications for $4 million in grants through the Neighborhood Opportunity Fund program. Emanuel created this fund last year to allow developers to construct bigger buildings near downtown in exchange for payments that would go toward promoting commercial developments on the West, South and Southwest sides.

jebyrne@chicaagotribune.com

Twitter @_johnbyrne

Our editors found this article on this site using Google and regenerated it for our readers.

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