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Despite Cries Of ‘Shame’ And Unanswered Questions, TIF Districts For Lincoln Yards, The 78 Move Forward

At the three hour meeting, residents urged the Joint Review Board members not to advance the proposed TIFs.

A rendering of the proposed Lincoln Yards development.
Sterling Bay
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CHICAGO — An effort to create two new tax-increment financing districts that would generate $1.6 billion advanced Friday, despite fierce protests designed to derail the effort pushed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

The Joint Review Board unanimously approved redevelopment areas to fuel two new massive developments. The 168-acre Cortland and Chicago River Redevelopment Area would generate $900 million to build the infrastructure necessary for Sterling Bay’s Lincoln Yards development along the North Branch of the Chicago River. The 141-acre Roosevelt/Clark TIF Redevelopment Area would generate $700 million to build the infrastructure necessary for Related Midwest’s The 78 development between the South Loop and Chinatown.

Both new TIF districts must also be approved by the city’s Community Development Commission, the city’s Finance Committee and the Chicago City Council.

The Joint Review Board is made up of representatives of taxing bodies who will see their property tax share reduced by the creation of the TIF.

The board is tasked with determining whether the proposed TIF district meets the eligibility criteria laid out in the state law as a blighted area in need of redevelopment that would not occur without a city subsidy.

TIF districts capture all growth in the property tax base in a designated area for a set period of time, usually 20 years or more, and divert it into a special fund for projects designed to spur redevelopment and eradicate blight.

Joint Review Board meetings are typically sparsely attended affairs that last less than 30 minutes, as members quickly sign off on the proposals compiled by the Department of Planning and Development and recommend that other city agencies do the same.

Instead, Friday’s meeting lasted three hours and featured impassioned testimony from residents and school advocates who urged board members not to advance the proposals since they are targeted to relatively affluent areas of the city and would reduce funding to Chicago schools, which have seen tens of millions of dollars in cuts in the past several years.

Members of Raise Your Hand Action — which pushes for high-quality, well-funded schools — held a news conference before the meeting to demand the process to approve the TIFs be slowed down, noting that land along the river south of the Loop and along the North Branch was the “very opposite” of areas in Chicago that require TIF funding.

Gayinga Washington, who is running in the 29th Ward to unseat Ald. Chris Taliaferro, said TIFs should be renamed to better reflect what they do.

“Taking income from citizens,” Washington said, prompting raucous cheers.

The TIF districts advanced on the recommendations of Brendan White, representing the city, Beth O’Reilly, representing the Chicago Park District, John Zukosky, representing the City Colleges of Chicago, and the Trasjuan Bender, of the Chicago Public Schools, as well as Josh Ellis, of the Metropolitan Planning Council, whose job is to represent the public. A representative of Cook County did not attend the meeting.

Ellis said he was frustrated that the “narrow purview” of the Joint Review Board prevented him from considering the impact of the new TIFs on the finances of CPS and other issues.

“Our job is to evaluate the merits of the whole proposal, and whether this area is blighted,” said Ellis who added his irritation that he was prevented from considering that $800,000 townhomes are located directly across the street from the eastern boundary of the proposed Roosevelt/Clark TIF.

Ellis said he had no choice but to vote yes, but he cast that vote “with reservations.”

Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) said it was not appropriate for the Roosevelt/Clark TIF to include area east of Clark Street. Dowell on Thursday announced she opposes a proposal from Related Midwest to build a new CTA Red Line station on 15th and Clark streets, “right in the middle of an established, entirely residential area” with TIF funds. The stop would fall between the Roosevelt stop and the Cermak-Chinatown stop. Dowell has said she prefers the stop on the west side of Clark.

In addition, Dowell objected to the classification of nearby Cotton Tail Park — which has a playground and gazebo — as “vacant land” in the TIF planning documents. However, that classification is required by state law, city planning officials said.

The hearing erupted in jeers when the vote on the Roosevelt/Clark TIF, with opponents chanting “shame!” and one man telling members of the board that they had just voted to “destroy our community.”

Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) objected to the Cortland and Chicago River Redevelopment Area TIF advancing, saying the $25 million earmarked for land acquisition in the fund’s budget was “much too little” to build a 24-acre riverfront park that the North Side needs.

Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd), whose ward includes Lincoln Yards, encouraged the Joint Review Board to advance the formation of the TIF — even though he was not prepared to support the development. It is being redesigned by Sterling Bay after Hopkins blocked plans for a soccer stadium and entertainment venue.

Hopkins said he understood that the large number of remaining questions is a “huge source of frustration” for many residents.

“I get that,” Hopkins said. “I have many questions of my own. But I don’t want a delay for the sake of a delay.”

Hopkins said more time was needed to figure out if the riverfront park was possible, since it is a very expensive undertaking that he said would have to be funded by various sources and agencies. Hopkins said he favored using some TIF funds for the park, but did not know how much.

The Lincoln Yards development is scheduled to be considered by the Chicago Plan Commission Jan. 24, but Hopkins said he would use his aldermanic prerogative to defer consideration of the project.

Hopkins said it was “not likely but possible” that the Lincoln Yards plan would be ready for a hearing by the Plan Commission on Jan. 24. Hopkins said he scheduled the hearing to provide “motivation” for Sterling Bay and city planners to develop a revised master plan.

That plan could be considered by residents at a series of small community meetings, Hopkins said, adding that he would also delay consideration of the project by the Zoning Committee if it is approved by the Plan Commission.