THREATENED: Expiring TIF Funding Jeopardizes Congress Theater Redevelopment

Decay and water damage seen in the hallway at the Congress Theater in Logan Square on Feb. 6, 2023. Congress Theater, 1926, Fridstein & Co., 2117-2139 N. Milwaukee Ave. Designated a Chicago Landmark on July 10, 2002. Photo credit: Colin Boyle / Block Club Chicago
The enormous dome above the auditorium of the Congress Theater in Logan Square on Feb. 6, 2023. Congress Theater, 1926, Fridstein & Co., 2117-2139 N. Milwaukee Ave. Designated a Chicago Landmark on July 10, 2002. Photo credit: Colin Boyle / Block Club Chicago

“A long-drawn-out plan to revive the decaying Congress Theater faces another major setback as the developer could lose millions in critical city funding.

“Baum Revision is asking the city for $27 million in tax-increment financing (TIF) to overhaul the historical Congress Theater at 2135 N. Milwaukee Ave. and the surrounding retail shops and apartments. Development officials have said the city funding is crucial to pulling off the $88 million project, which has struggled for years to get off the ground for financial reasons.

“But now that key funding is in limbo because the Fullerton/Milwaukee TIF district, the source of that money, is set to expire next year, according to Ald. Daniel La Spata (1st) and David Baum, principal of Baum Revision. TIF funds must be spent on eligible projects within a certain timeframe, or the money is no longer available.

“La Spata is scrambling to save the highly-anticipated project by extending the terms of the Logan Square TIF district for another three years. The Illinois General Assembly approved a 12-year extension in late May, but La Spata said he will only request another three years on the TIF when he brings the proposal to the full City Council for final approval.

“‘It is not hyperbolic to say that the Congress Theater development does not happen without the extension of the TIF,’ La Spata said in an interview with Block Club.

“Tax-increment financing districts capture new property tax growth in a designated area for a set period of time, usually 20 years or more, and divert it into a special fund for projects designed to spur economic development and eradicate blight.

“Baum said an extension is necessary because they don’t have nearly enough time to do the ambitious preservation project under the current terms of the TIF, which requires all projects using those dollars to wrap by the end of 2024.

“‘The approval process took us to a point where the work can’t be completed in that timeframe, and without those funds, we don’t have a project,’ Baum said in an email.

Baum’s development proposal was held up for months over a “good jobs” agreement between AEG, the theater operator, and local union UNITE HERE Local 1. Then former South Side Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza temporarily blocked the proposal over labor concerns in March.

“A labor agreement has since been reached, and a key city panel is expected to vote on the plans this month, but City Council now needs to sign off on extending the TIF district for the project to move forward, La Spata said.

“‘We’re not seeking any more money than what’s in the redevelopment agreement — we’re only seeking more time,’ the alderman said.

“Baum took control of the project in 2021, hoping to finally restore the 2,900-seat 1920s music venue back to its former glory.

“The developer’s plans also include roughly 5,400 square feet of retail and restaurant space along Milwaukee Avenue and Rockwell Street, 16 apartments and affordable offices and work space on the second and third floors. Fourteen of the apartments would be reserved as affordable housing.” (Bloom, Block Club Chicago, 6/6/23)

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