Winfield, school districts clash over downtown TIF funds

Winfield trustees have agreed to provide some financial incentive — up to $100,000 — for a bakery and cafe to open in the village’s downtown, but it was not without controversy.

The village board approved a plan to allocate the funds to Sweet Reserve Bakery and Cafe from a special taxing district at the heart of an ongoing legal fight with local school districts.

The bakery is expected to set up shop in a $38.8 million medical building across the street from Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital.

As part of a development agreement with the village, Northwestern set aside first-floor commercial and restaurant space in both a parking deck west of the hospital and the three-story medical office building in the core of Winfield’s Town Center.

“Essentially that's what we want to bring to this community: a variety of new retail, a variety of new restaurants,” Village President Carl Sorgatz said.

Village trustees unanimously voted to provide up to $100,000 in tax increment financing assistance to help the Lombard-based bakery expand into Winfield. In a TIF district, as redevelopment boosts property values, the extra tax revenue that otherwise would go to taxing bodies such as schools and parks can be used to pay for improvements within its boundaries.

For more than two years, the village, Winfield Elementary District 34 and West Chicago Community High School District 94 have been locked in a lawsuit over the legality of a second TIF district downtown. District 34 officials have said they filed suit to protect it from losing out on millions of dollars in tax revenue.

“In this particular case, the school districts contend that … development was happening and is happening in downtown Winfield, regardless of whether a TIF exists or not,” District 34 school board Vice President Matthew Tibble said.

The legal saga took another turn last week when District 34 asked a DuPage County judge to issue a temporary restraining order in an attempt to prevent the village from distributing incremental tax dollars from the TIF district. It also asked that all TIF 2 funds be held in escrow to “maintain the status quo and until the conclusion of this matter.”

The school district filed the motion last Wednesday, the day before the board voted on the bakery incentive. However, the judge denied the request for the temporary restraining order.

“In the event that the court eventually finds the TIF 2 is illegal, based on the ruling as I understood it to be, there would be a ‘clawback’ with regard to those funds,” Tibble said. “The village can proceed in any way, shape or form that it wants to in that particular circumstance, it just does so with the knowledge that if TIF 2 turns out to be illegal, it may be reimbursing the other taxing bodies.”

Village leaders say a TIF district is one of few tools that smaller, non-home rule municipalities such as Winfield can use to stimulate new development. Sorgatz has argued that Winfield Reserve — a proposed five-story apartment development — is a major private investment that will not happen without the TIF district.

Sorgatz said he was “extremely surprised and disappointed that the school district would take this kind of an action.” The TIF assistance represents about 18% of the total bakery project cost, officials say.

“The frustration for me is that I sincerely do believe our village is turning a corner,” Trustee Phil Hardy said. “I think you see green shoots and more all around town. So for this stick to be stuck in the spoke of our town is just disappointing and shocking.”

Sweet Reserve has entered into a lease with Northwestern for a 2,621-square-foot space inside the medical office facility, village documents state. The striking building, with its herringbone facade, opened in early 2023.

“We are excited to have Sweet Reserve be the first offering in our newest Winfield facility,” according to a statement from Northwestern Medicine. “We believe it will be a great addition to Winfield’s food offerings and we hope the community enjoys the new space.”

Sweet Reserve offers chai drinks, sandwiches, salads and breads in addition to desserts and custom cakes.

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