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Near North Side, River North

$1.3 Billion, Decade-Long Megadevelopment Aims To Transform Moody Bible Campus

JDL Development plans to buy 8.1 acres of land to build residential towers, luxury townhomes, commercial space, two public parks and a dog park.

JDL Development
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RIVER NORTH — Developers presented their plans Thursday for a $1.3 billion, 8.1-acre mega-development that would bring more than 2,600 residential units to Moody Bible Institute’s Near North Side campus.

The project, called North Union, would redevelop about half of the Christian college’s campus. JDL Development plans to buy the land to build a mix of residential towers, luxury townhomes, commercial space, two 20,000-square-foot public parks and a 26,500-square-foot dog park. Moody Bible would no longer have an interest in the land.

The project would be built in five phases. JDL hopes to break ground in 2021 on one of the parks and three buildings with 447 residences. Over the next decade, construction would continue to the final phase, when two residential towers of 47 and 55 stories would be built.

JDL CEO James Letchinger, speaking during Thursday’s virtual meeting, argued the project would restore confidence in others looking to build in Chicago.

“We have struggles, and this pandemic has not helped,” he said. “We need to build our way out. We need to create economic benefits from everything that we do. Developments have always been a great driver of that, and this property is unique in that it’s a very large piece of property in a very powerful setting that actually pays almost no taxes currently.”

Bounded by Wells Street to the east, the Brown Line to the west, Chestnut Street on the south and stretching just north of Oak Street next to Walter Payton High School, the development could generate more than $20 million in taxes a year when completed, Letchinger said. He is not seeking a public subsidy for the project.

Although Letchinger highlighted his commitment to affordable housing throughout the meeting, less than 10 percent of the proposed on-site units are set to be affordable. JDL would pay $21 million to the city to build affordable housing elsewhere in the city to comply with the Affordable Requirements Ordinance.

The two aldermen representing the wards where the project would be located expressed gratitude such a large development is moving forward despite the coronavirus pandemic.

Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th), who grew up nearby in Cabrini Green, said he was introduced to Christianity by students from Moody’s Bible Institute. He called it a “blessing” to have such a large development during the current spate of economic uncertainty. 

Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) said he and Burnett will work in lock-step to evaluate the proposal and gather community feedback.

“It’s somewhat of a relief that there’s private investment out there that still wants to come to our city and spend their money,” Hopkins said. “So we are obligated as a city, as residents and as elected officials to consider it. But we’re not obligated to just give them what they’re asking for; it doesn’t work that way.”

On Thursday, 500 people pre-registered to attend the virtual meeting and more were able to stream it live on YouTube.

“Everybody who lives in this neighborhood, while you might think that developers are the devil, actually what we are doing is ensuring that this neighborhood is vibrant and continues to grow,” Letchinger said. “Every time you build new, the buildings around you get brought up with you.”

During a question-and-answer period, several residents brought up transportation concerns, questioning whether there could be an increase in traffic and if the development needs 1,300 parking spaces when the area is well-served by public transit.

Letchinger said traffic concerns would be muted by limiting the entry and exit points to the site, with only one in the first phase and a large car-port in the final, densest phase five.

The project will have a 1:1 ration of units to bicycle storage space, but people in the neighborhood tend to own cars, Letchinger said.

“You can’t put people in a position where you don’t build parking and then they start taking street parking that neighbors have been using for years,” he said.

The size of the development requires it to apply for a Planned Development zoning change from City Council. After an application is submitted, a second community meeting will be held before the project could get placed on the agenda of the Chicago Plan Commission and, if approved, receive a vote in City Council.

The plan:

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