New Fulton Market SSA tax questioned by local groups
July 5, 2019

By Nawal Dairi

The West Loop Community Organization (WLCO) is proposing a new property tax levy to create a Fulton Market Special Service Area (SSA), joining 53 other SSAs across Chicago, by 2020. The affected business and property owners occupy the area bound by the west side of Ogden Avenue, the west side of Halsted Street, the south side of Hubbard Street, and the south side of Randolph Street.

“Special Service Areas are economic tools used to enhance City services that are already provided which may be, unfortunately, shortly received” or lacking, Carla Agostinelli, executive director of the West Loop Community Organization, said. “We have needs for additional litter abatements with an increasing population in the area. Over the last several years, we have done various needs assessments and categorized them along the years. Many of the concerns fall into security, litter abatements, additional lighting, and safety. We understand that we may need additional support for litter abatement, garbage removal, and pest control.”

According to City guidelines, SSA proposals must receive support signatures from at least 20% of property holders within the boundaries to implement the tax. Once the extensive application process is met and the proposal is approved, the SSA lasts for ten years.

Executive director of Fulton Market Association Roger Romanelli weighed in on the minimum approval rating for the tax. “The percentage should be much higher,” said Romanelli. “I hope Mayor Lori Lightfoot is looking into this—20% approval seems really low.”

Residents and property owners also have concerns over possible uneven distribution of funding between the SSA and tax increment financing (TIF). 

In response to these concerns, WLCO is now applying with a zero-levy (the City receiving no property tax money from the area) for the first two years until the TIF is lifted. Typically, the application process consists of a draft budget; however, due to the zero-levy there will be no budget presented with the application. 

Working with community

“We will be waiting until the TIF is lifted and we will be working with the community in these two years to identify how to properly allocate the budget,” Agostinelli said.

An advisory committee for the SSA consists of commercial real estate owners within the district who remained vocal on the SSA from the start and expressed their concerns about lack of infrastructure in the area. They are all members of the community helping to steer the application process with no relation to WLCO. If the application is approved, advisory committee members no longer participate unless they apply and are appointed commissioners by the mayor.

“Commissioners will be the ultimate definers of the budget,” Agostinelli said. “Anyone who is a PIN holder can apply to be a commissioner. We do not control who becomes commissioners.”

SSAs, otherwise known as Business Improvement Districts, are centralized around business communities. WLCO intends to demonstrate this concept by centralizing the tax around predominately business, rather than residential, properties.

“We have been waiting quite a while for a number of infrastructure improvements to occur, so this proposal could be a potential vehicle for funding these improvements,” Matt LeTourneau, president of Neighbors of West Loop (NoWL), said. “The downside is the new tax imposed on residents. The fact that the ultimate definition of the SSA is a Business Improvement District really identifies the focus on business and economic improvement through them. A lot of residents see that as a negative.”

Burnett offers views

Alderman Walter Burnett Jr. (27th Ward) noted his position on the proposal of an SSA in the area. “Personally, I found Special Service Areas to be useful,” Burnett said. “The SSA gives people more power and control of their destiny. I’m just a supportive figure, I have no input in making a decision. Whether people want it or not, it is up to them. In the Fulton Market Area, certain areas have vandalism and robbery. Money for security and street cleaning would not hurt them. This area has become one of the major tourist destinations in Chicago or even in the country. Due to the heavy traffic and amount of people, so we want to make sure that everyone is safe and able to enjoy themselves.”

Agostinelli encouraged communication and outreach. “Always reach out to the organization because there is a lot of miscommunication and misinformation out there,” Agostinelli said. “We are always willing to have a conversation either in person, via email, or over the phone. We are doing our due diligence in making certain that we are in-compliance with the SSA regulations, rules, and application processes. We will be an open book when it comes to the SSA.”

The City of Chicago Department of Planning and Development is accepting applications from nonprofit organizations wishing to establish an SSA by 2020; if WLCO reaches 20% approval, it likely will submit an application later this year.

To contact Burnett, call (312) 432-1995. For more on the City of Chicago Department of Planning and Development, log on to www.chicago.gov/city/en/depts/dcd.html. For information on the Fulton Market Association, log on to fultonmarketchicago.org. For more on NoWL, log on to neighborsofwestloop.com. For WLCO, log on to https://westloop.org/.