An artist’s rendering of a proposed tower at 110 N. Wacker Drive. Developers agreed to make a hefty contribution to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s neighborhood opportunity fund in exchange for the right to double their square footage. | Provided

Neighborhood Opportunity Fund to get $15.6M windfall

SHARE Neighborhood Opportunity Fund to get $15.6M windfall
SHARE Neighborhood Opportunity Fund to get $15.6M windfall

The fund created by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to rebuild neighborhood commercial corridors with contributions from developers allowed to build bigger and taller downtown projects is in line for a $15.6 million windfall.

The City Council’s Zoning Committee on Monday set the stage for the record contribution by approving plans for a 51-story riverfront office tower at 110 N. Wacker with 1.35 million square feet of space.

The project is a partnership between Riverside Investment and Development and the Howard Hughes Corp.

In exchange for the right to double square footage on a site that now includes a seven-story building, developers agreed to a contribution that would quintuple the size of Emanuel’s Neighborhood Opportunity Fund to rebuild struggling neighborhood commercial corridors.

John O’Donnell, CEO of Riverside Investment, said he is “talking to a number of tenants, but we have not entered into any agreements yet.”

“We’re in pretty advanced discussions with some of them. But we’re not done,” O’Donnell said.

But if an anchor tenant is secured, long-dormant commercial corridors in South and West Side neighborhoods could be big beneficiaries.

“What we’re paying for is 711,680 square feet of additional [space], which allows us to build the type of building that we want to build . . . which is an 800-foot tower, which will be used for office and retail,” Jack George, an attorney representing Riverside Investment, told the Zoning Committee on Monday.

The project’s “density payments” would go to the Neighborhood Opportunity Fund, which was launched last month with $4 million in seed money generated by more than a dozen downtown projects.

An additional $3.8 million in developer payments would be divided equally between a local improvement fund and a citywide Adopt-a-Landmark fund, officials said.

“The Neighborhood Opportunity Fund was designed to receive large density payments like this one to re-invest that money in struggling neighborhoods on the South and West sides of Chicago,” downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) said Monday.

“The purpose there was to drive additional private investment to help revitalize struggling retail corridors, bring more commercial vitality to neighborhoods that haven’t seen that activity in quite some time,” Reilly said. “So about $15 million or so of this density money will be invested in neighborhoods that need help the most.”

As for the project itself, Reilly said it will be a boon to the downtown area in general and to the Riverwalk in particular.

“The city has made an incredible investment in the Chicago Riverwalk on the south river bank of the Chicago River. To help complement that important public investment, I’ve been working very hard to ensure private development along the riverbank delivers similar public benefit,” Reilly said Monday.

Reilly noted that the Zoning Committee has approved “several projects that fit that description” in recent years. The projects include River Point at Lake and Canal, which includes a 1.5-acre public park over rail lines; 150 N. Riverside, which includes a 1-acre public park built over railroad tracks and rail lines; Wolf Point, which when completed will include a three-tower project and 1.25–acre public open space and Riverwalk promenade that will replace a gravel surface parking lot and eroding riverbanks.

“This project, 110 N. Wacker, represents the latest and greatest opportunity along the Chicago River to improve this site from a seven-story structure to a much higher and better use at a very prominent location here in the Central Business District,” Reilly said.

“The architects have done a beautiful job designing this 51-story building to allow for 1.35 million square feet of office space,” he said. “We also negotiated that one half of the development site be rededicated to public open green space that can be enjoyed by office workers, residents and visitors to the city of Chicago.”

Until last year, the city’s “Zoning Bonus Ordinance” allowed downtown developers to build additional square footage if they agreed to build underground parking garages, outdoor plazas, winter gardens and other features that benefited the project itself — but offered limited public benefits.

By eliminating those outdated bonuses and closing loopholes, the mayor hoped to generate a pool of money that could be used to bankroll projects in long-neglected neighborhoods like Englewood, Auburn-Gresham and Garfield Park.

Planning and Development Commissioner David Reifman has billed the Robin Hood-style plan as a “critical way to level the playing field for underserved communities. . . . Our neighborhoods cannot thrive unless our downtown is strong and supports them.”

He has promised a “robust and transparent process” for determining which neighborhood projects get funded and which don’t.

Ironically, it was Reilly who warned his colleagues before the City Council approved the mayor’s plan that they were “handing over an incredible amount of control” to Emanuel and Reifman by allowing them to award grants under $250,000 without City Council approval.

“Some people whom I’ve talked to have equated this to a slush fund,” Reilly said on that day.

“To my colleagues who care about having some control over what happens in their wards and being able to be part of the conversation on how funds are spent, we’re handing over an incredible amount of control to the commissioner of planning and to the administration without our input and consent.”

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