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As Newly Elected Aldermen Protest Outside, City Council Approves $1.6 Billion Lincoln Yards, The 78 Projects

The massive projects, particularly Lincoln Yards, had been controversial in the months leading up to the vote.

Activists protest the Lincoln Yards and The 78 developments Wednesday outside City Hall.
Hannah Alani/Block Club Chicago
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CITY HALL — City Council approved $1.6 billion in subsidies for the Lincoln Yards and The 78 developments.

The Tuesday meeting, the last for Mayor Rahm Emanuel, proved to be a doozy, but the Lincoln Yards TIF was approved 32-13 and The 78 TIF approved 31-13.

Protests interrupted the meeting multiple times, with officers escorting those opposed to tax subsidies for the Lincoln Yards and The 78 developments out of council chambers.

Emanuel said he knew there had been much debate over the projects but said “that’s for the good.”

“That’s democracy,” Emanuel said. “I know there are a lot of hard feelings.”

Outside, newly elected aldermen joined protesters, ultimately blocking part of LaSalle Street until they were moved by police.

Maria Hadden, who recently toppled longtime Ald. Joe Moore (49th), was among the new leaders who protested.

“We’ve experienced eight years of projects that show that priority has been given to corporate interests over public benefit,” she said after the protest. “The results of the 2019 elections make it clear that Chicagoans are looking for leaders who understand those are the wrong priorities.” 

Ald.-elect Matt Martin (47th) said residents are “deeply frustrated” the city can find $2 billion in taxpayer resources for luxury developments while ignoring “profound and longstanding needs” from school funding to transportation to affordable housing.

“On Feb. 26 and April 2, residents declared that the old way of doing business in Chicago needs to change. Immediately,” Martin said. “And it’s not just the aldermen elect who believe this. It’s also the current members of City Council who voted against the two mega TIFs today.” 

The protests came after a lighting-fast 9 a.m. meeting by the council’s Finance Committee, which signed off on $900 million in taxpayer-funded subsidies for Sterling Bay’s Lincoln Yards development and another $700 million for the even larger development in the South Loop known as The 78.

Afterward, the full council voted on both projects.

The votes came after a bizarre Monday in City Hall when Emanuel vowed to delay the vote out of respect for newly elected Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s wishes. Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) and outgoing Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd) vowed to vote on the measure anyway, saying the support was there.

In a Tuesday night news release, Lightfoot backed down, saying she had concerns about the plans but expected them to be approved. She said she’d met with the developers behind the projects and they’d agreed to “meaningfully strengthen their commitments to minority-owned and women-owned business enterprises.”

But protesters were not backing down.

“Y’all think it’s OK to fund $2 billion in TIF funds when you’ve got a pension crisis that you’ve known about for decades?” said one protester during a public comment period at the council meeting. Donning a Trump T-shirt, the man said he wasn’t speaking out for the same reason as the other protesters, saying his opposition was economic. “You guys make the laws. Start doing your damn jobs. You make the laws. Not the mayor.”

Outside the chambers, another protester chanted, “Discrimination used to be free … now we pay for it with our TIF dollars.”

Supporters of the project were also present, saying they hope the projects will signal the final transformation of Chicago from an industrial behemoth to a city poised for growth in the 21st century.

During his final speech on the project, following a roller coaster few days of back-and-forth deliberations, Hopkins said he was impressed by Lightfoot’s ability to delay the TIF vote by two days and, in that time, negotiate with Sterling Bay to up its number of promised construction bids for minority- and women-owned businesses.

“I tip my hat to her,” Hopkins said.

Lincoln Yards is a $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 Cortland and Chicago River TIF will generate at least $900 million to cover the cost of infrastructure projects to pave the way for Lincoln Yards to be built, including new bridges over the Chicago River, a new Metra station, an extension of the 606 trail, water taxis, dedicated bicycle lanes as well as a potential light-rail transit way and extension of the city’s street grid.

Lincoln Yards is set to include 600 affordable housing units as part of the development.

The 78 would be a new neighborhood between the South Loop and Chinatown with 10,000 apartments and condos.

The 78 would include 10,000 apartments and condominiums between the South Loop and Chinatown. It was approved unanimously by the City Council in November. Ald.-elect Byron Sigcho Lopez (25th) urged aldermen to reject the subsidy.

The Roosevelt/Clark TIF will generate $700 million to build the infrastructure necessary for The 78 — a new CTA station, a realignment of Metra tracks, Clark Street improvements, a 15th Street extension and a new river wall.

Developer Related Midwest agreed to set aside 500 units as affordable as part of the development, and pay a $91.3 million fee to the city’s Affordable Housing fund.

Several alderman-elect had called for the subsidies to be rejected, including Daniel LaSpata (1st), Jeanette Taylor (20th), Michael Rodriguez (22nd), Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th), Andre Vasquez (40th), Matt Martin (47th) and Maria Hadden (49th).

This is a developing story.

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