A rendering of the proposed ONE Central megadevelopment. Credit: Landmark Development

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SOUTH LOOP — Fresh off the bruising fight over the Lincoln Yards and the 78 megadevelopments, the Chicagoland Chamber is throwing its weight behind another proposal that has the potential to reshape a wide swath of the city.

Even before the proposal from Wisconsin-based Landmark Development starts working its way through the approval process, the chamber and AECOM released a study that contends that proposal, One Central, will add $120 billion to the city’s bottom line in added taxes and revenues over the next four decades.

The 34-acre development in the city’s South Loop would include construction of a Millennium Park-like “tabletop” above the existing CTA, Metra, Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District and Amtrak lines. 

Read the Chicagoland Chamber/AECOM study

The second part of the development calls for as much as 20 million square feet of new offices, homes, health and wellness services, and education space atop the table. Backers say the project would serve as “a new front door to the city’s central business district, the Museum Campus, McCormick Place, Wintrust Arena and Soldier Field.”  

A rendering of the proposed ONE Central megadevelopment. Credit: Landmark Development

In all, the $19 billion project will create 40,000 construction jobs and 210,000 permanent jobs, according to the study — and will not request a city subsidy, unlike Lincoln Yards and the 78.

The bottom line from Chicagoland Chamber president Jack Lavin: “We need bold and innovative ideas to position Chicago on a global scale.”

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The development would also provide what the AECOM study identifies as much-needed improvements to transit systems in the South Loop. Metra and CTA stations and lines serving Downtown “are increasingly at rush hour capacity, effectively limiting transit access,” according to the study. 

“While the East Loop has benefited from significant residential and hotel development since 2000, corresponding decreases in office inventory appear connected with a reduction of 20,000 jobs which has eroded ridership on the Metra Electric District, reduced transit access for South Side and South Suburban residents, and increased costs of commuting,” according to the study. “In total, the share of downtown jobs held by all South Side commuters into downtown has eroded at the fastest rate of all suburbs since 2002,” according to the study.

The proposed development just west of Lake Shore Drive between McFetridge Drive and McCormick Place would extend the city’s building boom that has reshaped the Loop, West Loop and Fulton Market.

“This will bust through and send growth to the south,” Lavin said.

One Central could serve as a “gateway” connecting people on the South Side and South Suburbs with jobs, Lavin said.

However, the development will have to win the backing of Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) and Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot, who campaigned on a platform that promised to prioritize neighborhood development and blasted Mayor Rahm Emanuel for focusing on Downtown too much.

After the City Council approved Lincoln Yards and the 78, Lightfoot warned developers she would take a different approach.

“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’m mayor,” Lightfoot told reporters.

Lavin said thriving neighborhoods can coincide with a booming downtown.

A rendering of the proposed ONE Central megadevelopment. Credit: Landmark Development

“I do think that in order for our city to be the best it can be, there has to be an interrelationship with the neighborhoods,” Lavin said. “If the neighborhoods are doing well, the downtown’s gonna do well. If the downtown’s doing well, the neighborhoods will do well.” 

Despite increasing activism around megadevelopments in and near the Loop — and the thousands of square feet they’ve added — the $60,000 study found ample demand for projects like One Central. 

Roughly 13 acres of developable land have been gobbled up each year for the last 20 years, regardless of recession and growth “without fail,” AECOM’s Chris Brewer said. 

“When you take Lincoln Yards, The 78, the Tribune Freedom site, add in acreage, and add up vacant pieces of land downtown, you appreciate there’s less easily developable land downtown,” Brewer said.

The city can absorb the megadevelopments, AECOM’s Bill Abolt said.

“Based on growth rates, based on the urbanization that’s happening, we’re gonna need all these developments,” Abolt said. “Bottom line, it can accommodate the growth. There’s a demand for the space, and as importantly it helps to distribute some of that growth in an area that could benefit from the investment, where infrastructure is not used at its full capacity.”

Dowell, whose ward would include the project, told residents ahead of a community meeting that the proposal was far from a done deal.

“No back room deals have been struck,” Dowell said. “There are no handshake agreements on this project. Bob [Dunn, of Landmark Development] knows that I will hold him and his development accountable to the needs of my constituents first and foremost. The size, shape, scope, and design of this project are all open for discussion.”

Check out the proposal here

“Numerous revisions and compromises are needed” before it could win her approval, Dowell said.

“The community improvements like the transit hub, the increased retail and park space and potential space for a neighborhood high school, if done correctly, could be lasting assets for the South Loop,” Dowell wrote to constituents after the meeting, according to the Tribune.

The alderman said she would request shorter and less dense buildings.

“Of course we need to work with the community on how these developments are going,” Lavin said, adding that detailed proposals will “make sure we have open space for parks and make sure we have schools for these new areas.”

As the debate over the latest megadevelopment starts, Lavin will draw on 30 years of experience in state and local politics to shepherd One Chicago through the process.

An Elmhurst native, Lavin cut his political teeth volunteering in 1980 for John Anderson’s unsuccessful presidential bid. Lavin went from passing flyers on the campus of the University of Illinois for the moderate Illinois congressman to a handshake and job with former Gov. Pat Quinn, a friend of his cousin, a fellow graduate of Fenwick High School. 

Lavin first worked as the director of development finance when Quinn was state treasurer and climbed in Illinois government off and on with Quinn, eventually becoming his chief operating officer, then chief of staff.  

Lavin also worked at Abbott Laboratories, and served for more than six years in Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s administration. After leaving the Quinn administration, he founded his own lobbying and strategic consulting business. He joined the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce in late 2017.

Lavin first met now Gov. JB Pritzker when Lavin was the state’s director of commerce, where he helped nurture what would become business incubator 1871. Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been one of the tech hub’s biggest cheerleaders. 

“Oftentimes I’ve found when projects are done, it’s the people who show up that get a lot of the credit. When I worked for Rod Blagojevich, he didn’t always show up at events, but Mayor [Richard M.] Daley always showed up,” Lavin said. 

A rendering of the proposed ONE Central megadevelopment. Credit: Landmark Development

Other takeaways from Lavin’s interview on The Daily Line’s Aldercast:

  • On Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot’s mandate for ethics reform – Former Gov. Bruce Rauner used Lavin as a punching bag for patronage issues at the state’s Department of Transportation. Lavin said Chicago’s reputation as a corruption hub is overstated. “I don’t want to dwell on it, but some of those things you mentioned did not happen and they were not all truthful, what came out in the press, particularly the Department of Transportation, but I will leave that aside for now… I am an optimist and I have always felt that some of the perceptions of Chicago are wrong and I think that’s one of the perceptions that is wrong. I think that most people that work in government, and most people that are working in their jobs want good things to happen and they want to do the right things, and we need to talk about that more. Definitely there are some reforms needed.” Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot has claimed mandate for City Hall reform. 
  • On negotiations for a scheduling ordinance — Market forces have essentially forced businesses to accept higher wages and protections like sick leave as necessary changes to attract and retain talent, Lavin said. But a proposed Fair Workweek ordinance, which Lavin describes as “restrictive” goes too far in some respects. Business, labor, and city representatives have haggled over the ordinance for years. While business groups, including the chamber, conceded on several fronts, including an eventual mandate for two weeks notice for employee schedules, he said businesses need to be able to create a “voluntary standby list” and flexibility on how employees are offered extra hours. 
  • On top priorities for Lightfoot – Lavin said addressing crime and Chicago’s perception as a violent city is one area he’ll be watching closely. “We need to look at what are the causes of violence and what can we do and how can we work with the business community on that,” he said, pointing to AT&T’s “Believe Chicago” initiative. The company recently celebrated hiring its 500th employee from one of 19 targeted neighborhoods “most affected by gun violence and high unemployment.” If he were advising her first 100 days, he’d tell her to go straight to Springfield to secure a new capital bill. “We haven’t had one in ten years,” he said. “We need to invest in our transportation systems. They’ve been under-invested in. We need to do more. In the last capital bill, 20 percent of new transportation capital was spent on transit. We need to make that 30 percent.”

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