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Use of public money for private Thai Town Center questioned

by Diana Novak
Jan 12, 2011

Thai Town Center rendering

Courtesy of Teska Associates, Inc.

The developer's rendering of the proposed Thai Town Center shows a total rehabilitation of the 17th District police station.

Community activists are questioning use of tax money to build a shopping center and restaurant in Albany Park.

The complex, called the Thai Town Center, will include a Thai restaurant, Thai shops and a Thai spa, as well as the offices of the Thai American Association in the Midwest. It is being built in the old 17th District police station using Tax Increment Financing.

Ald. Margaret Laurino (39th) helped project leader and chef Arun Sampanthavivat find an appropriate space and garner the $1.5 million in TIF funds the development received from City Council. TIF funding comes from elevated property taxes in designated districts and is set aside for economic development.

Sampanthavivat owns Arun’s Thai Restaurant on Kedzie in Albany Park, and plans to open a second in the new development.

Matthew Robertson, candidate for 39th Ward alderman in the upcoming municipal election, takes issue with the program’s city funding.

“There are other projects that are worthy of that funding, specifically overcrowded schools,” Robertson said. “That seems to be a higher priority for many people that I’ve talked to in the ward than a new Thai restaurant.”

Not everyone agrees.

“This brings in a viable business with an established track record — Arun’s restaurant is nationally known as one of the finest Thai restaurants in the country,” said Scott Goldstein, a principal with Teska Associates, Inc., a company that consulted with the center’s developers.

“In addition, it’s a bulkhead for Thai investment and Asian investment. This brings in the Thai community, which really doesn’t have a geographic home in the Chicago area. So we expect further investment, as the area is very attractive for new investors,” Goldstein said.

Goldstein said the building would bring 25 new jobs to the community.

Melissa McDaniel, program director for the North River Commission, a community organization that runs the Albany Park Chamber of Commerce, supports the project. “We love seeing investment in the neighborhood. We are excited about that, absolutely,” McDaniel said.

“Maybe the way TIFs are being applied could stand a little more scrutiny, “ said Robertson.

Construction on the building is set to begin soon with a projected opening in Fall 2011.