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Economic Development

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Elmhurst must be doing something incredibly well. People from the Republic of Serbia traveled across a vast ocean to find out just how it has managed to create such an exemplary city. Others have called from as far away as Australia to find out the same, not to mention statewide and nationwide recognition the city has received. Indeed, Elmhurst boasts quite a bit of innovation in its planning and development, and perhaps the strongest example of as much comes in the form of its Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Districts.

TIF Districts operate by setting a base year, and a base equalized assessed value (EAV), and all the property taxes on the established base are allocated to taxing bodies such as schools, park districts and the library. “But any increase above that base level, if there is any increase at all,” explains John Said, Director of Planning, Zoning and Economic Development for the City, “goes into a special fund for TIF improvements.” In a sense, then, TIF Districts garner funds to invest in itself.

store front

Elmhurst boasts three TIF Districts. The oldest, begun in the mid-80s, covers the downtown businesses (pictured on pages 34 & 35) such as the boutiques, specialty foods and other shops. TIF District 2 (pictured on page 36), near the Lake and Walnut Streets intersection, combines both the industrial and the commercial with the Elmhurst Auto Group, Superior Ambulance and the SpringHill Suites, among others. Lastly, TIF District 3 (pictured on page 37) near Route 83 and St. Charles Road focuses more on the commercial with stores like Kohl’s, Sears Essentials, Dominick’s, Portillo’s, Petco and other retailers.

One of the more traditional uses for TIF funds that Elmhurst has already implemented is Streetscape, the drive toward developing the downtown area. Consequently, Elmhurst’s downtown has received decorative lighting, improvements to the Police and City Centre plazas, brick pavers implemented in the sidewalks, installation of sidewalk furniture like benches, and trees planted, the list continues.

Other, more innovative uses for TIF funding has gone toward broader investments in the community. “Some of the activity in the TIF districts has involved the public-private partnerships with the City and a developer,” relates Said, “and providing opportunities for that land to be redeveloped so that a developer might redevelop it and put in a brand new project.”

strip mall

Business and traffic downtown, including at the very busy Metra station, has also increased the need for parking space.

“In fact, our commuter station handles the highest volume of riders on this Union Pacific West Line coming out of downtown,” Said explained, “so all of that translates into a lot of focus on parking.”

Probably the most unique usage of TIF funds, however, comes in the form of the Retail Development Grant Program. Retailers looking to expand downtown or begin a new business can check to see if they qualify for the program, and for those that do, “The City may provide up to $10,000 for businesses that want to come in,” noted Said.

Qualifications for the grant involve the business being a specific type of retail and spending on certain kinds of expenditures like expansion. Since the beginning of the program around 2002, 35 businesses have already had the chance to acquire a grant, including Wine & Vine and Ashley’s Custom Stationery & More in 2008.

The program has proven so successful that neighboring communities, upon hearing about it, immediately look to find out more. “I wish I could say I was the one that came up with this, but I’m not. I’m just a cheerleader,” commented Said, laughing a little. “But there are good things here. This program has definitely been one that you could easily call a very strategic and good tool for downtown retail success.”

hotel

Any city creating such international acclaim must be doing something right. For Elmhurst, the design and implementation of the TIF Districts seems to be a shining instance of a job well executed for now and for the future. So long as unique retailers continue to enjoy the benefits of Elmhurst, no one can tell from where the next admirer may come calling.

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