CITY HALL — Opponents of the Lincoln Yards and The 78 developments saw a glimmer of hope Monday when Mayor Rahm Emanuel heeded Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot’s call to delay a key vote that would have granted about $1.6 billion in subsidies for the two mega projects.
But that hope could be short-lived: there’s a good chance the committee will approve the plan anyway on Wednesday morning.
Instead of canceling the meeting or taking the projects off the agenda, Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), the Finance Committee chairman, delayed the vote until Wednesday. In place of the vote, O’Connor oversaw a lengthy public hearing on Monday in which elected officials and members of the public repeated their concerns that the project had moved at too quick a pace.
On Monday morning, Emanuel said in a statement that he had pushed for the delay because Lightfoot, who has expressed concerns about Lincoln Yards, requested it. Lightfoot was elected April 2 to succeed Emanuel.
“While I firmly believe in the value of these projects to the entire city, out of respect for her wishes and request, I will honor my commitment and delay the vote,” Emanuel said in the statement. “I am hopeful that under the mayor-elect’s leadership of the new City Council these critical projects will move forward and bring the kind of investment and job creation that has been a hallmark of the past eight years.”
But Ald. Brian Hopkins, whose ward will contain the Lincoln Yards development, was defiant, urging members of the committee to call a vote despite the mayor’s wishes — a move that would be unprecedented, as The Daily Line reported.
“We have the votes to pass it,” Hopkins said. And with Wednesday’s hearing, that just might happen.
On Monday morning, Ald. Michele Smith (43rd), said she was “very pleased” the outgoing mayor had listened the call of the incoming mayor to delay the vote. That said, Smith said the Finance Committee has a long road ahead if it is going to responsibly review a 600-page redevelopment agreement with Sterling Bay, the developer of Lincoln Yards.
“There are many aspects that need further review,” she said.
This weekend, Lightfoot issued a statement calling on O’Connor to not hold a vote but to instead have a hearing.
O’Connor’s public hearing lasted for several hours and included comments of vehement support and opposition from aldermen and members of the public alike.
During the hearing, Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) and Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) hammered David Reifman, the commissioner of the city’s Department of Planning and Development, during the hearing, saying the Lincoln Yards property wasn’t truly “blighted” enough for TIF dollars and questioning what happened after the city sold the land to Sterling Bay.
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.
“If this doesn’t pass by Wednesday, Sterling Bay isn’t going to go away …,” Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) said during the hearing. “I don’t see a downside to Chicagoans, taxpayers, to make sure we look at this through the new lens, the new administration.”
Ald. Brendan Reilly agreed.
“If this is truly a good deal, why wouldn’t it be a good deal next month?” Reilly said. “I don’t see what the potential catastrophe is.”
After most of his fellow aldermen slipped out of City Council chambers to attend other committee meetings, Hopkins addressed O’Connor with a list of projects Sterling Bay has promised to self-fund if the TIF is approved.
There’s $293 million, for example, set aside for infrastructure projects, Hopkins said.
“I’m prepared to let this project rise and fall on its own merits,” he said.
Following Hopkins’ comments, Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd) moved for the committee to vote on the TIF despite O’Connor’s move to delay it. Munoz didn’t seek reelection and will be replaced in May.
But his motion was unsuccessful — O’Connor said a vote on Monday would be premature.
Dozens of Chicagoans also spoke during the hearing’s public comment period with residents clashing with representatives from labor unions and construction companies.
Katie Tuten — the owner of the Hideout bar that sits adjacent to the Lincoln Yards development — said she still has lingering questions about the sale of the vacant land near the Hideout.
“What was in [the Sterling Bay] business plan?” Tuten said. “Did they just assume they were gonna get this TIF? … I think we can all win if we just delay this.”
Karen Butler, a longtime resident of the 43rd Ward, said holding Sterling Bay accountable for the creation of public parks was a “matter of social justice.”
“I would say the city can’t afford not to spend money on parks,” she said. “Parks make a city livable. Livable cities attract jobs.”
Voices of support came from representatives from labor-related groups, such as the Illinois Road and Transportation Builders Workers Association and the Chicago Laborers.
Jeremy Lewis introduced himself as a 61-year-old resident of Chicago who works in construction. He said projects like Lincoln Yards employ minorities who live in the South and West sides.
“For those who want to hold these development up — if you do not move this along … you invite senseless shootings because they see no other way out of poverty,” Lewis said.
Jim Strong, a representative from a labor union, said the construction jobs created by Lincoln Yards would not be limited to the North Side neighborhoods surrounding the project.
“Residents of South and West sides go to work,” he said, “Having a career that will provide help for kids.”
In the audience, a row of members of the Chicago Laborers District Council — a union that represents 19,000 workers in the nine most northeast counties of Illinois — donned bright orange polos.
One of the men, Mark Pavlis, said he supports public funding for massive light or heavy industrial projects like Lincoln Yards. And while construction is a source of short-term jobs, the project itself will create many sustainable jobs for the community, he said.
“I’m for longterm growth,” Pavlis said. “But if you’re struggling and sharing a one-bedroom apartment, I could see both sides. … My heart is with these people.”
Lincoln Yards is a controversial $6 billion project that aims to turn 55 acres along the North Branch of the Chicago River into a new neighborhood with housing and retail.
The 78 would be a new neighborhood between the South Loop and Chinatown with 10,000 apartments and condos.
Supporters hope the projects will signal the final transformation of Chicago from an industrial behemoth to a city poised for growth in the 21st century, while critics contend the projects offer only “crumbs” to the rest of the city.
“From day one, I have raised concerns about these deals and the deeply flawed process that has led us to this moment,” Lightfoot said. “For major development projects to drive equitable economic growth, they must be coupled with community input and a transparent, informed decision-making process.”
Seven aldermen-elect also called for the subsidy to be rejected: Daniel LaSpata (1st), Jeanette Taylor (20th), Michael Rodriguez (22nd), Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th), Andre Vasquez (40th), Matt Martin (47th) and Maria Hadden (49th).