Chicago Mayor proposes to leverage downtown development for neighborhood improvements

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel discussing the his proposed initiative at the Chicago Neighborhood Development Awards (Courtesy LISC)

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has proposed an initiative aimed at driving neighborhood development by leveraging downtown development with Neighborhood Opportunity Bonuses. These bonuses would exchange added square footage for funds that would be invested in business development in struggling neighborhoods.

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Much of Chicago’s West and South Sides have not seen the economic development that has recently boomed in the city’s downtown. (Ian Freimuth/Flickr)

The proposal would reform the current Zoning Bonus Ordinance, which enables additional square footage in downtown development in exchange for public amenities such as public plazas, water features, sidewalk improvements, and affordable housing units.

The mayor’s proposal hopes to update the current system by “eliminating outdated bonuses, closing loopholes and establishing a new funding source for economic development projects in underserved neighborhoods.”

The mayor’s office claims the updated ordinance could produce tens of millions of dollars over the next several years. Neighborhoods named in the mayor’s announcement as examples that could benefit from the initiative include Greater Englewood, Auburn Gresham, and Garfield Park. Examples given of what the funds could be used for include “reviving a commercial retail corridor or bringing a new grocery store to a food desert.”

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The Ray & Joan Kroc Corps Community Center by Antunovich Associates, a CNDA winner, is an example of a project that has benefited from the city’s current zoning ordinances. (Courtesy LISC)

“The new system would directly extend the benefits of a strong downtown to neighborhoods with unrealized potential,” David L. Reifman, commissioner of the Department of Planning and Development said in the initiative’s press release.

Mayor Emanuel announced the initiative at the Chicago Neighborhood Development Awards (CNDA) to an audience of neighborhood advocates, developers, and architects.

“One developer’s density bonus will not become another struggling neighborhoods economic opportunity, he said. “The whole goal is not to pit one part of our city against another, but to see those that are seeking density bonuses, and want to build taller, we’ll work with you. But means with that opportunity there are funds we are going to see, so when a neighborhood gets housing, there will be a grocery store. When another developer wants to build a hotel, apartment buildings, or condos, or an office building, that becomes in that neighborhood an opportunity for retail portion that have not seen.”

As with how current zoning bonuses function in the city, projects will work through their aldermen and the city council for approval. The funds will be distributed through “an open process for development proposals,” with will work with residents and stakeholders. The allocated money will be outlined, with information of supported projects, in a public report provided annually to the City Council.

The proposed initiative will be reviewed for approval by the City Council in the spring.

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