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Threat Of More Looting Leads To Concerns Of Downtown Chicago Exodus

CHICAGO (CBS) -- With the last effects of Chicago's looting sprees, it's a tense time near the Loop and the Magnificent Mile, not only for the businesses that were hit but also for everyone who lives and works in the city. Now more problems could lead people to leave these neighborhoods.

The city's Second Ward alderman said he knows many people are on the edge and poised to leave, but it wouldn't mean just empty units or storefronts. A mass exodus could gut Chicago's tax base, causing a citywide ripple effect.

Drive onto the Mag Mile and at first all seems normal. Keep driving, and you'll notice it's anything but. Chicago police cars are parked everywhere -- blue lights flashing. Stores are still boarded up. It's all a response to two rounds of looting in the  last two and a half months.

"If it happens a third time, people who are just hanging onto a belief that downtown is still a place to live and shop are going to give up," said Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd). "We're going to lose people. They're going to move. We're already seeing that start to happen."

The city's Second Ward includes the northern part of the Mag Mile, but it's not just residents bailing that concerns him. It's the potential for businesses to bail, too. He points out his ward and one other bring in about 40% of the city's property tax revenue every year.

"If that dries up we really have no way to replace it," he said. "There's no casino or there's no other magic source, no capital assets that we could sell that's going to replace the loss of our property tax base, and that's how a city begins to hollow out at its core."

"I think a lot of businesses are in a wait and see mode," said the Magnificent Mile Association's Adam Skaf about when it comes to reopening or closing for good. He said many of the association's 650 members are weary and frustrated.

"I spoke to a store manager who told me it was easier for her to do an inventory of what was left rather than what was taken," he said.

But Skaf said many retailers want to stay in business, and not all residents are on edge.

Miriam Bhimani lives in Streeterville and has no plans to leave. She believes looting is just symptomatic of a larger problem that needs addressing.

"When we talk about looting we need to zoom out and look at the full picture of what that really means, what the policies are that are in place," she said.

But Hopkins said the mayor and police need a tactical, surgical approach to make sure it doesn't happen again.

"We have two strikes against us," he said. "A third strike, and we're out."

Hopkins did say he believes both the Chicago Police Department and the city as a whole are now taking specific steps when it comes to planning to keep any future unrest under control when it comes to property damage.

Skaf said lost merchandise can be replaced and insurance is still intact, but the future of insurance in terms of the cost of the policies and what may not be covered are concerns that could also impact whether merchants decide to stay on the Mag Mile or in the Loop.

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