EVANSTON, Ill. (CBS) — The City of Evanston is considering devoting up $20 million toward upgrading an aging shopping center in the western part of the north suburban city.

Evanston Now reported this week that the Evanston City Council is seeking to set up a tax increment financing district to fund upgrades to the Evanston Plaza, a sprawling shopping center at the corner of Dodge Avenue – the Evanston extension of California Avenue – and Dempster Street.

Aldermen voted unanimously for the TIF district, for which property tax dollars for schools, parks, and other taxing districts would be frozen for at least 23 years so that all property tax increases afterward to go into a fund to neighborhood improvements. Critics such as the Chicago Reader’s Ben Joravsky have complained that while TIF funds are supposed to be used to improve blighted neighborhoods, they are actually used as slush funds in Chicago.

But the Evanston City Council has said the TIF funds in this case could be geared toward specific needs, such as addressing environmental issues, upgrading utilities, rehabbing existing buildings, and providing public services such as parking and streetscaping, Evanston Now reported.

Evanston Plaza was sold last December for $8.1 million to the Chicago real estate firms WHI Real Estate Partners LLC and Bonnie Management Corporation, according to TribLocal. The shopping center had been placed in receivership seven months earlier, after its prior owner, Joseph Freed & Associates LLC, was hit with a foreclosure lawsuit, the newspaper reported.

The shopping center opened in 1990, after the valve manufacturer Mark Controls vacated the site in favor of a larger headquarters in Skokie.

Before the sale last year, the shopping center lost its largest tenant, when TJX Companies shut down the A.J. Wright clothing store chain, and closed the A.J. Wright store in Evanston Plaza altogether despite efforts by city officials to have it rebranded as a HomeGoods store, TribLocal reported.

A Toys ‘R’ Us, a Pizza Hut, a Pharmor drugstore and a Frank’s Nursery and Crafts store were also located in the shopping center at one time, but all have since closed.

Evanston Plaza also gained some less-than-glowing attention last summer, when concerns about crime prompted Evanston police to open an outpost in the Dominick’s grocery store in the shopping ecenter.

At the time, Dominick’s was concerned about a series of sometimes violent thefts in the store’s liquor section by teens, and offered up the space as a police outpost.

The Evanston Joint Review Board, composed of representatives from the City of Evanston and other taxing bodies affected by the TIF designation, must next approve the proposed TIF district for the shopping center, Evanston Now reported. The board is set to meet on April 12.

If the board votes in favor of the TIF, the Evanston City Council will vote on it on May 28, Evanston Now reported.