The Chicago City Council recently approved the creation of Special Service Area (SSA) 77 to raise funds for economic development in West Garfield Park’s Madison/Pulaski corridor, clearing the way for the selection of the governing commission that will decide how the money will actually be spent.
The SSA 77 includes most of the buildings along the portion of Madison Street between Kenton and Hamlin avenues, and the portion of Pulaski Road roughly between the Green Line ‘L’ tracks and Congress Parkway.
All the properties within the SSA’s borders get an additional tax levy that can’t be more than 2% of the properties’ collective Equalized Assessed Value. This is the second SSA on the West Side and the second SSA to be managed by the Austin-based Westside Health Authority.
The City Council approved the service area’s creation on Dec. 16 as part of a larger package of ordinances. In addition to creating the SSA, the ordinance sets its budget and tax levy for 2022. With the service area now in place, Mayor Lori Lightfoot can now appoint the five SSA commissioners who would govern the area. The City Council must confirm the mayor’s appointments.
The Madison/Pulaski commercial corridor never fully recovered from the riots that erupted in the wake of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. During the Nov. 9 public hearing on the SSA’s creation, there was a broad agreement that the businesses could use support and the SSA funding would help. The only point of contention was who would get to run it.
In order to form an SSA, a local organization, usually either a nonprofit or a chamber of commerce, must submit an application. If the SSA is approved, that organization becomes the provider.
In 2016, the Westside Heath Authority successfully launched SSA 72/Austin Village, the West Side’s first SSA in Austin, in the area around the intersection of Chicago and Cicero avenues.
The nonprofit started the application process for the Madison/Pulaski service area in the fall of 2020. But this came after the Garfield Park Chamber of Commerce’s 2019 application for a similar SSA was denied in the summer of 2020.
Chamber head Siri Hibbler has alleged that this was done at 28th Ward Ald. Jason Ervin’s request. Chicago Department of Planning and Development Deputy Commissioner Peter Strazzabosco denied that alderman’s wishes had any role in the process, saying that the chamber simply missed the June 2020 application deadline.
According to application documents, the SSA commission would need to be up and running within two months after the service area is approved. The Commission decides on policies to guide how the service provider runs the service area. It will also be recommending the budget and the tax levy going forward, with the city council getting the final approval.
Since the commission doesn’t exist yet, the planning department came up with the SSA’s first budget and the tax levy. The SSA’s 2022 budget allocates $12,816 for attracting customers to area businesses, $121,325 to improve “public way aesthetics,” $15,000 for economic and business development, $54,253 for public health and safety programs, $17,466 to cover the costs of managing the SSA and $35,457 for employee-related costs. The tax levy for the 2021 tax year was set at 1.45%. The SSA will receive the funds in August 2022.
While the mayor appoints the commissioners, the providers process the applications and local aldermen have input in the appointment process. The candidates can’t serve on the provider’s board of directors and they can’t owe any money to the city or be behind on child support by the time the appointment takes effect. To ensure that the terms are staggered, the first three members are appointed for three-year terms and the other two are appointed for two-year terms. All terms last for two years from then on.
During the Nov. 9 hearing, Hibbler and several other attendees argued that an Austin organization isn’t the best fit for a West Garfield Park corridor. In an interview following the hearing, WHA CEO Morris Reed pushed back against Hibbler’s argument, saying that his organization started out in West Garfield Park and their mission is to serve the whole West Side and not just Austin.
Hibbler claimed that Ervin approached Reed to run the SSA. While Reed didn’t deny that, he said that area businesses approached the organization as well. Reed also said that, when Ervin approached his nonprofit, they reached out to West Garfield Park residents and businesses to make sure they would be welcome.
“WHA hired a consultant, a consultant that it’s independent of us, to explain what an SSA is and what it can do,” Reed said. “And [residents and business owners] still wanted us to submit the application.”
Throughout the interview, he emphasized that the SSA commission will determine how the service area will be run. The nonprofit was still looking for candidates to serve on the commission. Reed said that Hibbler and any of her supporters are welcome to apply.
“We’re not opposed to any groups getting involved,” he said. “Siri Hibbler can get involved as a commissioner and we can certainly support that.”
The commissioner application forms are available on SSA program website at: https://www.chicago.gov/city/en/depts/dcd/supp_info/special_service_areassaprogram.html