CHICAGO (CBS) — Residents of the West Rogers Park neighborhood honored Mayor Richard M. Daley Thursday, as the mayor called the area “a ward that truly represents the entire city as a city of immigrants.”

Daley also extolled the benefits of the Tax Increment Financing program to small business owners who might not be able to get started otherwise. The program affects property taxes in districts where it is enacted, and has been widely criticized.

The mayor gathered with business and civic leaders in the 50th Ward in front of the J.K. Kabab House, at 6412 N. Rockwell St. just off Devon Avenue.

“To all the people that reside in the 50th Ward, this is a ward that truly represents the entire city as a city of immigrants – our past, present and future,” Daley said, “and when immigrants come here, they become part of this great American mosaic. That strength and vitality of the city is to always have immigrants coming in. At the same time, we have young people coming in from around the country and around the world. When we have that, we really have a dynamic energy to build the city.”

He pointed out the many immigrant communities have given bustling Devon Avenue its culture and flavor.

“We’re very proud of this community – both the Jewish community and the Indian community, the Pakistani community – all of these communities that truly make up Devon street, which has really represented the great history of our country, and a commitment to moving forward,” Daley said.

Daley said through the establishment of a Tax Increment Financing district in the area, the city has been able to give a boost to the J.K. Kabab House in particular.

“At the J.K. Kabab House, a great small business, the city of Chicago has been able to assist this business with TIF funds,” Daley said. “This business is a perfect example of a small business improvement fund, which is funded by Tax increment Financing, (that) helps small businesses grow and prosper.”

The fund assists small businesses with lighting, cooling systems, masonry, walk-in coolers, and interior reservations that would be costly to a business owner starting out otherwise, Daley said.

Tax Increment Financing is a source of longstanding controversy. In a TIF district, property tax dollars for schools, parks, and other taxing districts for at least 23 years, so that all property tax increases afterward to go into a fund to improve struggling neighborhoods.

Critics, most notably Chicago Reader columnist Ben Joravsky, say TIFs amount to a slush fund for the Daley administration. Joravsky has been writing articles criticizing the TIF program for several years.

But Daley said Thursday that a TIF ensures property tax money stays within a community. He said TIF funds have been used for improvements in senior housing, affordable housing, large and small businesses, parks, schools, lighting, police and fire stations, and libraries.

“And that is essential, because things always must change in the city,” Daley said. “If it doesn’t change, then you live in the past, and no one wants to live in the past. You always want to live in the present and future.”

Daley also pointed out many improvements that have transformed the neighborhood over the years, including the construction of a new elementary school, the modernization of the Lincoln Village shopping center, and rehabilitation efforts at several parks, including the popular Indian Boundary Park and zoo at Lunt Avenue and Rockwell Street. He also pointed out the new canoe walk along the North Shore Channel alongside Lincoln Village.

In the 50th Ward, residents will not only have a new mayor, but also a new alderman. The City Council meeting Wednesday was the last for Ald. Bernard Stone, who lost a runoff election last month to incoming Ald. Debra Silverstein. Stone had been in office since 1973.