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$900 Million Lincoln Yards Tax Subsidy Set To Advance Despite Calls For Delay

The commission is likely to once again reject concerns from opponents of the development, who contend the next mayor and City Council should decide the fate of the project.

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DOWNTOWN — The $6 billion Lincoln Yards development is set to advance Tuesday with the endorsement of the Community Development Commission — despite continued calls for delays from opponents.

The commission, made up of members appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, is expected to clear the way for the 168-acre Cortland and Chicago River Redevelopment Area (F2018-72) to generate $900 million to build the infrastructure necessary for Sterling Bay’s Lincoln Yards development. 

The commission is likely to once again reject concerns from opponents of the development, who contend the corruption scandal swirling around City Hall means the next mayor and City Council should decide the fate of the project along the North Branch of the Chicago River.

Earlier this month, the commission endorsed plans for a $700 million subsidy for Related Midwest’s $7 billion development between the South Loop and Chinatown along the Chicago River — despite impassioned pleas to slow the effort down.

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.

The Chicago Plan Commission has already given the Lincoln Yards development the green light, sending it to the City Council’s Committee on Zoning, which is next scheduled to meet Feb. 28 — two days after the elections for mayor and aldermen.

Eleven aldermen have vowed to vote against the project because it fails to combat Chicago’s affordable housing shortfall or reduce the economic or racial segregation plaguing the city. Twenty-six aldermen could kill the project.

Zoning Committee Chairman Ald. James Cappleman (46th) has said he would insist developer Sterling Bay commit to building affordable units earmarked for the city’s poorest residents in the 2nd Ward — but not as part of the development itself — before allowing the project to advance to the full City Council.

However, the development has the support of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Ald. Brian Hopkins, whose 2nd Ward includes the 55-acre development. Under aldermanic prerogative — the city’s unwritten policy of giving aldermen the ultimate authority over projects in their own wards — that’s all a development typically needs to be approved by the City Council.

Once completed in 10 years, the development is set to include 6,000 new units.

Because the project is set to get $900 million from the new TIF district, 1,200 of those units must be set aside for low- and moderate-income Chicagoans.

Sterling Bay plans to include only 300 of those units as part of the development itself, the minimum required by the city’s Affordable Requirements Ordinance.

The developer also plans to pay $39 million into the city’s Low-Income Housing Trust Fund in lieu of building another 300 units.

The remaining 600 units would be allowed to be built outside the development, but within three miles, according to the original plan. Sterling Bay would also have the option of paying into the trust fund instead of building some of those remaining units, or including them as part of Lincoln Yards.

Department of Planning and Development Commissioner David Reifman said it was appropriate for Sterling Bay to be allowed to pay into the housing trust fund to finance affordable housing developments across the city.

While local entertainment venue owners have mobilized to block the project, which they fear will unleash a wave of displacement and gentrification that will wipe them out, members of unions and firms that stand to get a slice of the massive project are expected to once again urge  commissioners to go full speed ahead.

Under the city’s rules, $1.9 billion of the project’s cost will be set side for firms owned by blacks, Latinos and women. In all, Lincoln Yards is expected to add 10,000 construction jobs and 24,000 permanent jobs.

The $900 million in TIF funds will be used to reimburse Sterling Bay for new bridges over the Chicago River, a new Metra station, an extension of the 606 trail, water taxis, dedicated bicycle lanes as well as potentially a light-rail transit way and extending the city’s street grid to the city’s specifications.

Efforts are already underway to unsnarl the intersection of Armitage, Ashland and Elston avenues, officials said.