LINCOLN PARK — Lincoln Yards developer Sterling Bay rolled out a revised proposal for its massive North Branch river project to a decidedly skeptical crowd of hundreds Thursday night.
Although Sterling Bay reduced the height of skyscrapers in the plan and increased green space, members of the public watching the presentation Thursday still had concerns about proposed music venues on the site, the possibility of a tax increment financing district and the difference between private and public green spaces.
In the original July proposal, developers planned the signature tower to stand over 800 feet. After comments from the public, the most recent proposal caps the tallest building at about 650 feet tall.
Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) began the meeting by calling an earlier proposal in July “insufficient.” He also reminded the crowd that Thursday won’t be the last public meeting, calling the development a “work in progress.”
“We are going to continue to gauge public sentiment,” he said.
Douglas Voigt, an architect on the project, said one of the goals of the revised plans was to “reconnect the community to the Chicago River.”
The plans presented showed an extension of Dominick Street all the way to North Avenue. The plan would also connect Southport Avenue to Kingsbury Street and extend Armitage Avenue. Additionally, there would be an extension of The 606 path, with the addition of a pedestrian and bike bridge.
In terms of green space, the new plans include an 8.42 acre public park that will face south and be open to the river and future riverwalk plans. The imagined “continuous riverwalk” would span 3.61 acres, and there are several “public plazas and greenways” added.
Overall, there would be nearly 21 acres of public space in the revised plan — an increase from 24 to 40 percent of the development from the original July proposal, developers said.
The public still had concerns. Many in the crowd shouted that “publicly accessible” land was still private land.
Sterling Bay said it, too, wants the Chicago Park District to take over the public parks in Lincoln Yards, but the park district declined due to budget and staffing concerns.
“We don’t want the public park,” said a representative for Sterling Bay. “But the city doesn’t want it.”
One resident asked Sterling Bay to provide proof of their request to give the public park space to the city.
Prior to the meeting, a group of music venue owners held a press conference to announce their new coalition called CIVL — the Chicago Independent Venues League.
The coalition is asking the developers and city to slow down. They are specifically concerned with Sterling Bay’s proposal to create an “entertainment district” in partnership with the entertainment company Live Nation.
“Independent venues are being squeezed out,” said Hideout co-owner Katie Tuten. “Not here. Not in Chicago. Not on our watch.”
At the later presentation, Sterling Bay Managing Principal Andy Gloor said his team is made up of “people who live in the community.”
“The entire team lives within a mile of the proposed site,” he said. “We sit in traffic, we avoid the potholes, our kids play on the same fields as yours.”
There were some issues that Gloor addressed, issues he called “myths.”
The first being the concerns surrounding making the Lincoln Yards development a TIF district.
“Sterling Bay is going to pay for the infrastructure costs,” he said. “We will get paid back over time based on the income of Lincoln Yards.”
But members of the public were concerned that those infrastructure costs would primarily benefit improvements for the developers, without contributing property taxes to the city’s general fund.
“If you don’t get the $800 million TIF, will you walk away from the endeavor?” asked Tuten. Sterling Bay representatives would not answer the question.
Concerning the Live Nation concert venue, Gloor offered little in the way of details. But he did address the Hideout specifically.
“By no means do we have any intention of buying the Hideout,” he said.
Robert Gomez, one of the founders of CIVL and owner of independent music venues, asked Sterling Bay representatives what had “been promised to Live Nation.”
“What is being built?” he asked. “What is this entertainment district all about?”
“That has not been determined and there is no promise from Sterling Bay yet,” said Dean Marks, general council for Sterling Bay.
Former 2nd ward Ald. Bob Fioretti, a mayoral candidate, was in attendance and was less enthusiastic about the project than Ald. Hopkins, calling the meeting a “charade.”
“They’ve already decided. They aren’t going to slow down,” he said.
Members of the crowd asked questions for over two hours. Many expressed concern about protecting historic districts, slowing down the development and ensuring adequate public transportation be included in the plans. Other residents were satisfied with Sterling Bay’s new proposal, commending them on their efforts to increase green space.