CHICAGO-At a total cost of $1.37 million and a $137,000 tax increment financing package from the city, a proposal to build a Leona’s Pizzeria in the Calumet Heights neighborhood was the smallest item on the community development commission’s recent agenda. However, it was important deal for a neighborhood long underserved by restaurants, and very important to the department of planning and development.

The proposal from Toia Building Property Partnership was the first to sail through the department’s streamlined TIF application process. The new program offers a simpler, user-friendly process for projects ranging from $100,000 to $4 million seeking $25,000 to $1 million in city assistance. The department of planning and development aims to make a recommendation on those smaller proposals within 30 days, resulting in closings in about four months, says commissioner Alicia Berg.

“We think that our simplified and streamlined process will spread TIF money wider and deeper into the neighborhoods,” she says.

Community development commission member Laura Hasan says the usual process, often involving consultants to prepare the proposal, is intimidating to smaller developers. “It’s not worth the time and effort,” she adds. “It’s painful.”

Sam Toia reports his proposal to redevelop a 7,000-sf building on a 22,000-sf lot at 9156 S. Stony Island Ave. was submitted in October. The latest Leona’s—the family-run operation has 10 sit-down establishments in the city and six more in the suburbs—is being built on the site of the former Tropical Hut restaurant. A $1.5-million restaurant is being built in the 200 and 300 blocks of E. 31st Street in Bronzeville, another neighborhood underserved by sit-down restaurants.

“We haven’t had one new restaurant on the Stony Island strip in 20, 25 years,” says 8th Ward Alderman Todd Stroger.

The retail nature of the project qualified it for the streamlined program. Projects that are entirely residential do not qualify.

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