DOWNTOWN – Chicagoans worried that the massive $5 billion plan to transform now-industrial land along the North Branch of the Chicago River into a new neighborhood will snarl traffic throughout the North Side need to “get off the sidelines” as Sterling Bay’s project enters the next phase, Ald. Brian Hopkins (2) said.
“You have Friends of the Parks and Friends of the River focused on parkland and open space,” Hopkins said in an interview with The Daily Line. “You don’t have a friends of the bridge. It can be tough to organize around that.”
Nevertheless, officials need to know that residents care about finding ways to prevent congestion from getting worse, Hopkins said.
“It is time to get off the sidelines on this issue,” Hopkins said.
Hopkins said he was surprised that his office’s survey — taken by approximately 450 people — found that concerns about traffic and transportation were shared by roughly the same number of people who are focused on parks and open space, which has been the focus of a concerted campaign by Alds. Michele Smith (43) and Scott Waguespack(32) who want to build a 24-acre park.
“Initial feedback shows people need much more specific information and a detailed plan that hopefully can be fully discussed,” Smith said in a statement. “At the same time, it’s important to acknowledge the overwhelming hunger for a public park on the river to balance this enormous development and create a tangible, lasting benefit to the community.”
The plan for the 53 acres dubbed Lincoln Yards includes an extension of the elevated 606 path over the Kennedy Expressway and Chicago River, a new Metra station, and a new bridge over the river at Armitage Avenue.
Hopkins said he was particularly interested in hearing from residents on those proposals, as well as plans to reconfigure the intersection of Armitage, Elston and Ashland avenues near the expressway and the existing Metra station.
Hopkins said he favors the construction of a light rail line along an abandoned railroad track that could whisk commuters to the Loop in 15 minutes. However, that would be very expensive and likely require federal funding — something that is unlikely in the Trump era, Hopkins said.
A dedicated bus lane could be built to serve much the same purpose at a fraction of the cost, Hopkins said.
Once fully built, Lincoln Yards could be home to 4,500 residents, an arts and entertainment district, a 20,000-seat soccer stadium, restaurants, shops and a tower reaching 70 stories in the sky.
Sarah Hamilton, a former spokeswoman for Mayor Rahm Emanuel who is now the managing director of Team Kivvit, the public affairs team representing Sterling Bay, said the firm knows “there is more work to do.”
“We are in the process of refining our proposal to reflect the many comments we received at our last community meeting and from follow-up discussions with residents that will continue throughout the summer and beyond,” Hamilton said, adding that Sterling Bay is funding a study to find ways to reduce congestion.
“We applaud the city and the alderman’s resolve in supporting viable solutions and their logic in understanding that it takes job creation and revenue producing development to fix these long unresolved infrastructure needs,” Hamilton said.
Had he taken his own survey, Hopkins said he would have declared himself neutral on the proposal, along with 22 percent of respondents. The proposal is not detailed enough for him to take a firm stand on the issue, Hopkins said.
Without Hopkins’ support, the project stands no chance of winning the City Council’s approval because of the longstanding practice of aldermanic prerogative that will give Hopkins the final say on the project.
Sterling Bay began the formal approval process two weeks ago, despite the fact that Hopkins has not given the plans a green light.
“[Sterling Bay] has their timeline, which doesn’t coincide with the city’s timeline, or my timeline,” Hopkins said. “It takes as long as it takes. There is a lot of work from a planning point of view to be done.”
Hopkins said he has asked Sterling Bay representatives to meet with the area’s six neighborhood groups this summer to gather their input and “launch a dialogue” with the group’s top leaders about the various issues raised by the project.
Planning is underway for a second community meeting about the project — and all future meetings will allow members of the public to weigh in after Sterling Bay and Hopkins’ office were criticized by some for preventing public comment at the last meeting, as reported by Block Club Chicago.
Hopkins said his office may conduct another survey to gauge any changes in public opinion on the project.
“I will definitely keep my finger on the pulse of this as it goes forward,” Hopkins said.