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Mayor Plans to Fund Investment in City Neighborhoods by Expanding Downtown Development

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Under Mayor Rahm Emanuel's leadership Chicago has seen unprecedented tourism, hotels brimming at capacity, record levels of foreign investment, and a booming downtown real estate market. But many residents living in underserved communities detached from the city's thriving core have enjoyed little if any direct benefit from downtown's good fortunes. The Mayor now wants to spread the love by introducing a new plan that would compel developers to help finance improvements in Chicago's outlying investment-deprived neighborhoods, according to a report in the Chicago Tribune. By investing directly in Chicago's neediest neighborhoods, the Emanuel's plan eliminates the chicken vs. egg development conundrum that often prevents vital improvements such as grocery stores from moving into many of the city's most depressed areas. The mayor's proposed value capture mechanism could have the added benefit of weaning the city off of its controversial and dwindling tax increment financing (TIF) program. In exchange for paying into the new system, Emanuel would reward developers with an expansion of downtown Chicago's high-density zoning boundaries.

The proposal would see new areas of Chinatown, West Loop, River West, and the Near North Side fall under the downtown zoning designation. Because sites with the downtown (D) classification can seek greater building height and density compared to what's typically permitted under the Chicago zoning code, opening new areas for large, urban-scaled construction could be a win-win for the city and developers alike. The new plan may also see current (and somewhat outdated) system of density bonuses such as those awarded to developers for including building improvements such as below grade parking, upper level setbacks, parks, and green roofs be replaced by compulsory payments into Emanuel's neighborhood improvement fund. According to today's report, all money collected would be spent on projects at the Mayor's discretion. If adopted, the proposal would represent one of the most significant modifications to the city's zoning regulations since the comprehensive reform of 2004 and the more recent Transit Oriented Development (TOD) ordinance.

·Emanuel: Charge downtown developers more, spend money in struggling neighborhoods [Chicago Tribune]
·Chicago Area New Construction at Highest Level in Seven Years [Curbed Chicago]