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SmartZones Not Enough
But according to a recent report compiled by Civic Economics — a strategic planning and economic analysis firm with offices in Chicago and
"It's a fascinating report," said 3rd Ward Commissioner James White.
Using ATEK Medical Manufacturing as its example, Civic Economics pointed out that the firm's location at
The city included a small portion of Monroe North in the Furniture Center Ren Zone, one of six areas that made up the first tax-exempt round back in 1997. But most of that zone only runs along
"We recommend that the city explore further expansion of this zone to the north and east, encompassing existing industrial space," read the report.
The report went on to acknowledge that throughout the country some of these tax-based incentive programs have been overused and haven't provided the economic boost and jobs that cities were expecting. In many cases, the only result has been a significant loss of tax revenue to these cities.
"As a result, extension of such programs is a challenge, even in a compelling case such as Monroe North. As the city moves through an evaluation of the full menu of local incentive programs, Renaissance Zone expansion may be precluded. Should that occur, alternative incentives may be necessary," read the report.
Tax incentives, though, aren't the only factors that will determine whether companies set up in Monroe North. The district needs to offer low-cost space, especially to start-ups, and have an infrastructure that caters to both transit and pedestrians.
City Economic Development Director
One site that may draw some interest is the Baker Furniture building at
"I think it's positioned as a loft office space. It's less expensive than downtown space and we can do a brownfield there," said
The city has a capital improvement project on the burner for the district, involving street redesign and reconstruction, flood wall repair, utility relocation and park development. The cost of the work has been estimated at $24 million. The city is hoping to get a $2.5 million federal grant for the project and has the necessary local match to qualify for the grant.
The city has hired JJR to help develop a strategy for Monroe North. JJR is an urban design and civil engineering company with offices in
The Civic Economics report highlighted that there were "cheaper places to do business than in
"Tax-increment mechanisms like SmartZones provide less direct benefits to tenants [than Ren Zones]. However, to the extent that it promotes the development of infrastructure and amenities desired by technology-driven firms, the SmartZone program is certainly a valuable contributor to their needs."