BUCKTOWN — A lawsuit trying to block using tax dollars for the controversial $6 billion Lincoln Yards project along the Chicago River will send both sides to court Wednesday as the city tries to have a judge throw out the case.
Opponents of the development are urging others to show up for the 9:30 a.m. Daley Center hearing, which aims to stop the city from steering $1.3 billion in taxpayer subsidies to the project.
The lawsuit alleges that the city illegally and in a “racially and ethnically discriminatory” manner approved the plan for Lincoln Yards. The project aims to turn 55 acres along the North Branch of the Chicago River into a new neighborhood with housing and retail.
A circuit court judge will hear the city’s argument to dismiss the case Wednesday.
The lawsuit was filed on April 17 by Grassroots Collaborative and Raise Your Hand for Illinois Public Education and alleges the city knowingly created a TIF district in an area that fails to satisfy state requirements of blight. (Read the lawsuit in its entirety here.)
The development touches the neighborhoods of Bucktown, Lincoln Park and Ranch Triangle.
On April 10, after months of hotly contested debates, the City Council voted to approve $1.3 billion in subsidies for Lincoln Yards.
At the time of the vote, the Lincoln Yards land met the bare minimum of the state’s five requirements to be considered “blighted”; today, it no longer meets one of the five requirements based on new property assessments, an Aug. 26 Tribune analysis found.
The lawsuit also claims the Lincoln Yards project fails to pass the state’s 1977-era “but-for” test (shorthand for the phrase, “but for” the use of TIF, the redevelopment project area would not “reasonably be anticipated to be developed.”)
“[The city] has administered the TIF system in a racially and ethnically discriminatory manner, as hundreds of millions of tax dollars collected from taxpayers citywide have disproportionately benefited majority-White census tracts to the detriment of majority-African American and majority-Hispanic census tracts,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit also claims the creation of a TIF District in an area that is neither truly blighted nor developable “but for” public funding siphons money away from Chicago Public Schools.
“This prevents CPS from benefiting from new construction that would already be expected to occur.”
In defense of the TIF, Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) said Sterling Bay — the developer behind Lincoln Yards — expects to pay $300 million out-of-pocket to finance various infrastructure projects.
These include new bridges, a new Metra station and extension of the Bloomingdale Trail.
“I can tell you as the alderman that steered this process, I would not have supported the Lincoln Yards development without the accompanying TIF,” Hopkins said in late August.
The TIF funds will reimburse the developer only for its upfront investment on the infrastructure improvements, Sterling Bay spokesperson Julie Goudie said on Monday.
“We hope that the city and plaintiffs can resolve the litigation swiftly,” Goudie said. “Delaying the TIF delays progress in renovating the area’s decaying infrastructure and creating access to tens of thousands of jobs for local Chicago residents.”
Bill McCaffrey, a spokesperson for the city’s Law Department, declined to comment.
Regardless of the outcome of the lawsuit, organizers hope the city will seek a “serious, systemic reform” of Tax Increment Financing (TIF) districts, Marcos Ceniceros, of Grassroots Collaborative, said.
“The standing for this case really comes from what we believe was an illegal action by the Emanuel administration to push this through,” he said. “This really calls into question the entire system of TIFs, especially if we’re giving away massive amounts.”
The groups have asked supporters to fill the courtroom by showing up at 9 a.m. on Wednesday. Those who attend Wednesday’s hearing will not be permitted to use cell phones or to speak once inside the courtroom.
Tim Tuten, co-owner of The Hideout, said he expected many of his supporters to show up Wednesday. Located at 1354 W. Wabansia Ave., the beloved bar is across the street from the Lincoln Yards footprint.
Read the redevelopment agreement — a document that outlines rules and requirements for Sterling Bay’s use of the TIF funds — here:
Do stories like this matter to you? Subscribe to Block Club Chicago. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods.