Chicago’s new industrial growth zones: An expedited approach to tax incentives

September 20, 2016  |  Staff Writer  |  Print Article  |  Email this Article


Column by Brian Liston, Attorney at Law, The Law Offices of Liston & Tsantilis, PC, and Conor Desmond, Associate, The Law Offices of Liston & Tsantilis, PC

Brian Liston

Brian Liston

On Sept. 13, I testified in front of the Cook County Board of Development in favor of a new incentive program aimed at encouraging industrial growth in the southern and western parts of Cook County. Targeting seven specific areas in Cook County, the program is designed to remove hurdles to development and provide additional support services to businesses. An interactive map of these growth areas on Cook County’s southern portion can be found at The County is also seeking to allow Municipalities to request the end of tax incentives earlier than the incentive’s full term for nearly all tax incentive classes.

While the Cook County Board works out the details of the proposed ordinance, the three-year pilot program opens the door for Municipalities to simplify the process regarding properties located in these growth zones. The proposal would allow Municipalities to authorize a government official or board to issue a letter in support of the incentive, rather than requiring a full vote of the Municipality governing board. This step alone has the potential to reduce the time and energy necessary to obtain a tax incentive for developing properties. This pilot program also will make it significantly easier to renew tax incentive as qualified projects will be able to obtain renewal support from municipalities simply by obtaining a letter in support from an authorized governmental representative from the local authority.

In addition to empowering Municipalities to simply the approval process, the County plans to make grants available, up to $130,000, to help landowners in the growth areas to pay for environmental assessments and remediation. The City of Chicago and Cook County have also announced a partnership with the South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association to lead a new site certification program to speed up development of blighted properties. This site certification service would grant free marketing services to developers, assistance in obtaining property information (zoning, surveys, environmental as examples) and workforce development.

The County may be using this pilot project not only to encourage development of areas badly in need of redevelopment, but also as a test case in granting Municipalities more control over incentives. As many practitioners have seen recently, Municipalities require a Redevelopment Agreement to be executed prior to the grant of support for a tax incentive. As a result of this increased discretion in supporting incentives, Municipalities have been clamoring for the ability to request the end of a tax incentive when a developer breaks the agreement, if a property falls back into disrepair or if the Municipality simply wishes to place a cap on the total amount of the incentive. The County is currently designing procedures to this end, working with Municipalities and other parties, to ensure that such a power is well defined and to allow Municipalities to dictate how they approve a project. Because of this proposal to limit the life span of an incentive, it becomes even more critical to ensure that Redevelopment Agreements are well crafted and detail the expectations of both parties over the course of the tax incentive.

This new program will make it easier to bring new jobs and businesses to Cook County and should be taken advantage of by new enterprises. Interested applicants should still be prepared to discuss zoning changes, impacts to the community and be prepared to answer additional questions depending on the governing Municipality given the move towards increasing Municipality control over the tax incentive’s life.


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