Six Corners SSA likely ending ties with Six Corners Association
by BRIAN NADIG
The Six Corners Special Service Area Commission at its Aug. 6 virtual meeting approved a budget reduction to lessen the tax burden on area businesses and will likely cut its longtime partnership with the Six Corners Association.
The commission unanimously approved a 15-percent reduction for the board’s budget for next year, bringing the total down to $255,000 from its typical annual budget of about $300,000. Additional changes to the budget are possible as the final approval is months away.
Commission treasurer Mike Dimeo said that a budget cut made sense in part because the commission is expected to have a larger than normal carryover in unspent funds due to the pandemic. More than $30,000 budgeted for special events in 2020 is expected to go unspent, as social distancing requirements have forced the cancellation of several community events.
"We have a very fluid situation with COVID," Dimeo said.
About 75 percent of the 240 properties within the boundaries of the special service area are commercial, with nearly all of the remaining ones being condominiums in upper floors of the Klee Plaza at 4015 N. Milwaukee Ave., which has ground-floor storefronts.
Funds collected by the SSA are used for marketing and beautification initiatives in the shopping district along with general maintenance, such as snow removal on the sidewalks. The service area primarily runs along a four-block stretch of Milwaukee Avenue, Cicero Avenue and Irving Park Road in the heart of the Six Corners Commercial area.
This year Mayor Lori Lightfoot has overhauled the 7-member commission with new appointments. Alderman James Gardiner (45th) had expressed concerns that some of the previous commission members did not own or lease properties that are subject to the special service area tax.
Since its inception in 2004, the commission has awarded its "sole service provider" agreement to the nonprofit Six Corners Association, which in 2002 launched the campaign to create the SSA. Service providers spend money on behalf of the commission.
SSAs are formed when a group of property owners get together and decide to pay an extra tax, with all of the revenue going back to improvements in the local economy. There are more than 50 SSAs in the city.
At its August meeting, the commission unanimously voted to recommend the Six Corners Chamber of Commerce, which was founded in 2017, as the service provider in 2021. Some founding members of the association also founded the chamber.
"Sometimes it’s time to start over," Dimeo said.
The vote recommending the chamber was not a surprise as Gardiner has been at odds with some members of the association and the commission. Last year three of its association board members resigned and earlier this year four commission members resigned. Some of the members that resigned were critical of Gardiner and were supporters of former alderman John Arena, who lost his aldermanic seat.
The chamber includes some business owners who in 2015 expressed concern about the commission’s decision to increase its levy from about $226,000 to $288,000.
At the time some merchants questioned the need for the association to spend $117,000 on landscaping and other public way improvements and said that the association should focus more on getting empty storefronts filled. Arena said at the time that a second business organization at Six Corners was not necessary.
At the Aug. 6 meeting, city Department of Planning and Development assistant commissioner Mark Roschen praised the work of the association and told the commission that the while the department prefers to follow the directive of each SSA commission, commissions do not have the final decision on the matter.
"(This association is) frankly one of our better service providers out there," Roschen said.
The department has asked the commission to conduct a "request for proposals" so that it can consider several possible service providers. "We want this to be a transparent process, open, not rushed," he said.
The commission plans to meet at 1:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 20, to discuss the parameters for an RFP that it will issue on the matter. The city approves SSA service providers on an annual basis, but RFPs are not usually conducted.
"This is a new chapter that can begin," commission secretary Dr. Juanita Mora said. "I really hope we can all work together."
Several audience members criticized the commission’s decision to recommend the chamber prior to the RFP and said that the association has the experience needed to manage the SSA. Supporters of the association have supposedly sent letters to the department of planning criticizing the chamber, citing that it wasn’t fit to be the service provider over the association.
"What’s the point of an RFP if you’re already decided what you want," resident Susan Strong-Dowd said. "It looks really, really bad."
Association board member Catherine Brennan said that she is discouraged by the apparent "politics" guiding the process but that she hopes the commission will "have an open mind."
Resident Ellen Hill said that "the fix is apparent," adding that the association does "a fabulous job." Hill ran against Gardiner for committeeperson in the 45th Ward and lost.