By John Riley
Depending on your perspective, the former Wilson Yard at West Montrose Avenue and North Broadway is either a sign of a promising economic future or an eyesore exemplifying urban blight.
For years the yard, adjacent to the Wilson el stop in Uptown, was used as a repair and storage site by the CTA. It now stands empty and vacant.
With the push for development in Uptown, many wonder how businesses that might consider locating in the Wilson Yard will react to a proposed increase in the real estate transfer tax.
The tax is levied on all industrial and commercial property in Chicago. The fate of the proposed increase will determine which vision of the Wilson Yard becomes reality.
The increase in the tax, which would charge buyers of property $10.50 for every $1,000 of sale price, was approved by the Illinois legislature as a way to subsidize the Chicago Transit Authority’s underfunded pension system. Because the tax applies only to properties within the city, the city council must approve it.
The current transfer tax, paid by the buyer, is $7.50 per every $1,000 of sale price. Sellers pay the county and state transfer tax of $1.50 for every $1,000. That number would remain unchanged under the proposal.
For years, the Wilson Yard has been a target by developers hoping to gentrify an area that, until recently, had few prosperous businesses. In 2001, the city created a tax increment financing, or TIF, district to help spur economic development. The CTA sold the Wilson Yard property to the city, which has plans to locate a Target or similar “big box” store.
But approving the 40 percent increase in the transfer tax would inhibit economic growth, said Brian Bernardoni, director of government affairs for the Chicago Association of Realtors. Bernardoni said the tax discourages businesses from moving into areas because they must pay it on top of any down payment.
Bernardoni also rejects the rationale for the increase. Instead of going toward operating costs or improved infrastructure, the transfer tax simply puts money into CTA’s pension fund.
“Trying to save the CTA’s pension plan hardly equates to doomsday,” Bernardoni said, referring to the prospect waved by transit officials of drastic cuts in service if the General Assembly didn’t increase the agency’s funding.
The alderman representing the 46th Ward, in which the Wilson Yard is located, is Helen Shiller. Shiller’s office did not return phone calls seeking comment.
The area north of the Wilson Yard now contains an Aldi supermarket, retail shops, ethnic restaurants, and a Dunkin Donuts. Some Uptown residents, including Victor Foley, say the success of these businesses are harbingers of a coming economic boom for the Uptown area.
“Obviously, I wish it were something else,” Foley said. “But I think [Target] will be good for the area. Anything will help.”
Foley cited the increase in condominiums south of Montrose Avenue and a noticeable increase in foot traffic as signs of development.
But David Rodriguez, another Uptown resident, said he avoids the area around the Wilson Yard. Rodriguez said the area is unappealing to him, pointing to the bar, liquor store, tattoo parlor and two methadone clinics across the street.
“A Target would probably help this place a lot more, because there’s not a lot to do here,” he said. “There’s not really any specific reason to be in this area other than if you live here.”
Rodriguez said he thinks Shiller should vote against the increase in the transfer tax.
“That would discourage businesses from coming,” he said. “You’re paying hundreds of thousands, and then you’ve got this extra amount. Why would anybody want to take a chance here?”