The Business of Business Districts: Part 6 – River Forest

DSCF1119.JPGThis post originally appeared on www.oakpark.com September 28, 2015

While Oak Park sports twelve separate commercial areas, River Forest has just three, located along its main corridors:  North, Lake and Madison. Why, then, has it added two new districts.

River Forest will create its second business in as many months at its board meeting September 28.  West Lake Business District stretches all of two blocks from Ashland to Park along Lake Street.  A month earlier, the Board established East Lake Business District along the block of Lake Street between Lathrop and Ashland.

That’s right.  Two separate business districts along a three block stretch.

We call Oak Park’s twelve commercial neighborhoods and River Forest’s three corridors “business districts” and so they are by any measure but one. They are geographic and marketing constructs; not legal designations.

River Forest’s two new business districts are different.  They fall under the “Illinois Business District Development and Redevelopment Law” which allows a municipality to designate a defined area as a “business district.”  In so doing, that municipality has expanded powers with respect to economic development.

Under this law, the government may acquire property either by contract or eminent domain within the district, invest in and improve infrastructure, apply for grants and loans, manage and rehab buildings and direct environmental remediation.  If the designated area is further deemed “blighted,” the municipality may impose a one percent (1%) retail and service tax on sales in the district to fund improvements.

The single-block East district (Lathrop to Ashland) received a blight designation.  The West district will not.

This financing vehicle for blighted areas is different from a TIF, which captures incremental improvement in property taxes, thereby impacting all taxing bodies.  Any sales tax imposed under the Business District law goes directly and exclusively to the municipality.

Though River Forest is silent as to specific plans, these two “business districts” are economic development tools for village management as it works with property owners and developers.  Assuming it is successful, the legal designation will fade and the public will come to know River Forest’s downtown district as the entire stretch of Lake Street from Harlem to Park.

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