Mayor Emanuel pushes for 'Downtown Density Fee'

CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) - Neighborhood activists have been proposing something like it for decades. Now, Mayor Emanuel agrees.

Mayor Emanuel wants charge Downtown developers a one-time fee in exchange for letting them build bigger, denser structures. City Hall would then use that cash to lure new investment to hard-hit sections of the South Side and West Side.

The mayor told FOX 32 that City Hall might raise ten or fifteen million dollars a year from developers seeking to add extra square footage, perhaps an extra floor or two, to their projects Downtown.

“They want higher buildings Downtown? Well, that becomes the seeds and the revenue to fund the commercial life, the retail life our neighborhoods want to see. They haven't seen it yet because private development says, ‘It's too risky’,” Mayor Emanuel said.

The mayor told FOX 32 his initial goal is to use the "Downtown Density Fee" to jump start construction of groceries and other retail outlets in neighborhoods that now may have only liquor stores.

“If River North is starting to see a new building or a new hotel, that becomes the seeds of what we want to see in Roseland. And then we have one city, one future,” Mayor Emanuel said.

“I think it's a great idea. It just shows you that he's been listening to people,” Alderman Walter Burnett added.

Ald. Walter Burnett's 27th Ward stretches from the booming retail and restaurant mecca of the Randolph Street market west to neighborhoods with far more violent crime than private investment. He applauds the mayor's plan and almost all of the other so-called "Density Bonuses" City Hall currently offers to developers Downtown.

FOX 32: We give bonuses for plazas. We give bonuses for green space.

Emanuel: Design! We give bonuses for plazas in front of the building. We give bonuses for design.

FOX 32: Now, we're gonna give bonuses for jobs in tghe neighborhood.

Emanuel: Those bonuses? That's your call. That's the value of your building. We want the bonuses to go our struggling neighborhoods to make sure that they have a commercial life.

The mayor said he'll ask the City Council to approve the new "Downtown Density Fee" this spring. It will apply only to developers who seek zoning exemptions.

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