DOWNTOWN — After months of bizarre meetings and hotly contested deliberations, it finally happened: on Wednesday, City Council voted to approve $1.6 billion in subsidies for the Lincoln Yards and The 78 developments.
The two votes (32-13 for Lincoln Yards, 31-13 for The 78) marked the final meeting for several longtime aldermen as well as Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who will be replaced by Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot on May 20.
On Wednesday, Emanuel said he knew there had been much debate over the projects but said “that’s for the good.”
“That’s democracy,” he said.
Tim Tuten, owner of the Hideout Inn, has been a vocal critic of the development. Not only would it surround his bar, 1354 W Wabansia Ave., with high-rises, but he’s been critical of giving public money to wealthy developers in an affluent part of the city while other neighborhoods suffer.
As Tuten sat in Council Chambers Wednesday, he took note of where two very different leaders sat. Ald. Ed Burke (14th), who was re-elected despite an FBI probe, Tuten noticed, sat in the front row in the far left corner.
In the corner seat in the back row on the opposite end sat Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) who delivered what Tuten called a “Gettysburg Address” of a speech slamming Emanuel and Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) for ramming developments through without proper transparency.
Outside, five newly-elected aldermen protested the development.
Seeing that juxtaposition, Tuten said, filled him with hope that the end of Chicago’s machine-style pay-to-play politicking had finally come to an end.
“It was like watching this weird situation. Like, guys, this is the last time,” Tuten said. “You’re done.”
“Enjoy this moment in the sun”
Some of the “debate” Emanuel mentioned included 11th hour negotiations before both the critical zoning committee and finance committee votes.
Ahead of the zoning committee vote, Hopkins announced a last-minute agreement from Sterling Bay to double its on-site affordable housing requirement from 300 units to 600 units.
In total, Lincoln Yards is obligated to construct 1,200 affordable units. Sterling Bay also plans to pay $39 million into the city’s housing trust fund. Half of the trust is earmarked to subsidize individuals’ rent in existing buildings, and the other half is set aside to build new homes for the poorest Chicagoans.
Another 300 units would be allowed to be built outside the development, but within three miles. Sterling Bay could also pay into the trust fund instead of building some of those remaining units.
And late Tuesday night, Lightfoot negotiated with Sterling Bay to increase requirements for minority and women-owned business enterprises from 26 to 30 percent for minority-owned and six to 10 percent for women-owned businesses.
Those negotiations, however, followed Lightfoot’s initial plea to delay the entire vote until after she and several new aldermen are sworn into office on May 20.
Some Lincoln Yards opponents, including Ald.-elect Byron Sigho-Lopez, were upset she had backed down.
“It was inconsistent with her prior statements,” Sigho-Lopez told Crain’s.
Following the vote, Lightfoot — who had spent the day in Springfield — defended her actions in an interview with reporters in Springfield. She warned developers: no more giveaways.
“We were able to increase those numbers in a material way, and I was very clear with the developers: Enjoy this moment in the sun, because you’re never going to get a deal like this again out of the city of Chicago as long as I am mayor.”
The entire council — and Lightfoot herself — had only a few days to review a redevelopment agreement that had undergone several changes, Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) said after the vote.
“A lot of the things are unethical, on the verge of illegality,” he said. “There are fundamental policy problems that existed from day one (that) basically hemorrhaged the whole project.”
Hopkins disagreed — he said Lightfoot had “sufficient time to fully analyze” the project before entering negotiations with the developer.
“I understand that some observers are interpreting Mayor-Elect Lightfoot’s last minute capitulation on Lincoln Yards as a sign of weakness. I view it as a sign of her strength,” he said. “She correctly rejected the misguided, and in some cases outright false, arguments that have been relentlessly advanced by a few vocal political organizations and their media activists … That took courage.”
Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) applauded Lightfoot’s efforts to strengthen the hiring requirements for minority and women-owned businesses, but she was still troubled by a paragraph of language on page 44 of the redevelopment agreement regarding residency requirements for contracted labor.
That language — which is part of a protection already outlined in the city’s municipal code, planning and development spokesperson Peter Strazzabosco said — states that if Sterling Bay does not fulfill its obligation to hire a certain quota of Chicago-based labor, it must pay the city a fee equal to 1/20 of 1 percent of the entire project’s construction costs.
“If I was the developer, I would do the math and say it’s cheaper to just pay them and not to make these efforts,” she said. “These are the things I’d like to bring to (Lightfoot’s attention) right off the bat.”
Moving forward, Waguespack and Hairston agreed they’ll need to work with Lightfoot and the rest of council to hold Sterling Bay accountable as checks are signed and permits are approved.
“Only when their feet get held to the fire, do they do anything,” Hairston said, of Sterling Bay.
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.
Changing of the guards?
Tuten has been organizing meetings about the development during the past six months.
Several alderman-elect had called for the subsidies to be rejected, including Daniel LaSpata (1st), Jeanette Taylor (20th), Michael Rodriguez (22nd), Sigcho-Lopez (25th), Andre Vasquez (40th), Matt Martin (47th) and Maria Hadden (49th).
La Spata, a Logan Square activist who recently ousted Ald. Joe Moreno (1st), was among a group of five newly elected leaders who boycotted Wednesday’s meeting and joined a sit-in protest on LaSalle Street.
Moreno, who had been criticized for taking money from developers seeking zoning changesand permits, voted “yes” on Wednesday — despite his campaign promises to vote “no,” La Spata noted.
“Come May 20th, there will be a new force in city council that demands Chicago government work for the many, not just big developers and corporate interests,” he said.
Hadden, who recently toppled longtime Ald. Joe Moore (49th), also joined the sit-in protest. The time for corporate interests ruling Chicago is over, she said.
“The results of the 2019 elections make it clear that Chicagoans are looking for leaders who understand those are the wrong priorities,” she said.
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.
“And it’s not just the aldermen-elect who believe this,” he said. “It’s also the current members of City Council who voted against the two mega TIFs today.”
Tuten said he’s confident Lightfoot and the newly elected City Council will hold Sterling Bay accountable for meeting requirements outlined for labor residency, affordable housing and minority and woman-owned businesses.
“This is Chicago. This was gonna happen,” he said. “It’s gonna be moving forward. But its gonna be moving forward with good people. Good people who weren’t bought off.”
Read the redevelopment agreement — a document that outlines rules and requirements for Sterling Bay’s use of the TIF funds — here:
Lincoln Yards – Final RDA (… by on Scribd
Do stories like this matter to you? Subscribe to Block Club Chicago. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods.