Without a word of debate, the City Council signed off Wednesday on a pair of controversial projects: a $12.5 million Bridgeport heliport and a $350 million plan to redevelop the shuttered Lincoln Park site of Children’s Memorial Hospital.
Both projects have the potential to transform their neighborhoods. Both have detractors who don’t want that change.
Developer Dan McCaffery’s plan for Chicago’s premier development parcel at Lincoln and Fullerton faces the biggest hurdle.
The Mid-North Association representing roughly 450 historic district homeowners who live closest to the project voted this week to spend up to $100,000 to join in a lawsuit aimed at stopping the project —or at the very least shrinking it.
Association president Josh Glazier argued that a pair of 21-story, 270-unit residential towers, 60 condominiums, 156 assisted living units, a five-story health club and 100,000 square feet of retail space is simply too much for the already congested neighborhood to swallow.
“It’s completely out of character for low-rise Lincoln Park and Mid-North. It’s a very bad decision for the neighborhood and it’s not over,” Glazier said after Wednesday’s City Council vote.
“It’s introducing tremendous density, traffic and traffic problems into a low-rise residential neighborhood. And there’s no reason to do it. Before, we had a children’s hospital. That was a reason to do it. But, commercial development and high-rise residential living is not a reason to create tremendous disruption and damage to a landmark historical neighborhood.”
Local Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) has argued repeatedly that Children’s Memorial was “the anchor of our community” and Lincoln Park “needed a new one” to replace the “lost economic vitality.”
She has also touted the “tremendous and positive changes” she forced the developer to make: two high-rises, instead of three; a host of traffic improvements and three public gardens that would add one acre of open space to a congested neighborhood that desperately needs it.
“Because of our resolve, the developer was forced to renegotiate its arrangements with a large, respected institution,” Smith told her colleagues last week.
“It is time to move forward. Our local businesses are struggling to hang on as the huge complex sits empty. The structure itself is starting to show neglect. The majority of the ward wants to accept this plan.”
A Wheeling tour company’s plan to shift its operations to a 4.6-acre riverfront site in the 2400-block of South Halsted also faces opposition from Bridgeport and Pilsen residents concerned about noise and helicopter safety.
Chicago Helicopter Express plans to build 14 launching pads, a 17,500-square-foot hangar, a terminal with rooftop observation deck, water taxi dock and aircraft fueling station.
CEO Trevor Heffernan has promised to operate 15-to-20 tours-a-day with “zero impact” on noise in a community that’s plenty loud already because of CTA buses, the Orange Line and traffic on the Stevenson and Dan Ryan expressways.
He’s planning to use what he calls “the quietest helicopter on the market,” build sound barrier walls and follow a flight path toward Lake Michigan high above the Stevenson.
As in Lincoln Park, local Ald. Jim Balcer (11th) is all for the heliport for the economic vitality it will bring to Bridgeport and the spin-off effect on local business.
Now that the City Council has approved the Bridgeport heliport, Chicago will soon have two places where helicopters can take off and land. Mayor Rahm Emanuel has authorized another one to serve the Il. Medical District.
Chicago has been without a heliport since March 2003, when former Mayor Richard M. Daley demolished Meigs Field under cloak of darkness.