Developers to bankroll Near West library, River North firehouse

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel. | Maria Cardona / Sun-Times

A new branch library for Chicago’s fast-growing Near West Side and a new fire station in bustling River North will be built, thanks to partnerships with local developers.

The new branch library will be located across the street from McDonald’s new corporate headquarters in a two-story building at 118 N. Aberdeen that was previously part of talk show diva Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Studios complex.

Developer Sterling Bay owns the building and is donating it to the city. The developer spearheading construction of McDonald’s new Chicago home will also work with the city to design and build the new library. The mayor’s office did not reveal a price tag for the library project.

The new, $20.2 million firehouse will be bankrolled by Friedman Properties and built just west of the station it will replace at 55 W. Illinois.

After the new fire station is built, the nearly 50-year-old station that houses Engine 42 and the Fire Prevention Bureau will be torn down.

Friedman Properties has agreed to pay the city $5 million for the 14,600-square-foot property and adjacent, 3,150-square foot alley. Construction would then begin on a 614,000 square foot office tower on the firehouse site with ground-floor retail.

The new building is expected to boost annual property tax revenue by $4.4 million and generate a $10 million windfall for the “Neighborhood Opportunity Fund” created to rebuild neighborhood commercial corridors with contributions from developers allowed to build bigger and taller downtown projects.

A news release issued by the mayor’s office did not reveal the appraised value of the River North property or whether the property was put up for bid.

It simply states that “terms of the proposed deal structure” would be posted on the website of the city’s Department of Planning and Development and that “alternative bids will be considered for a 30-day period.”

Albert Friedman, CEO and chairman of Friedman Properties, has made $55,300 in campaign contributions to Mayor Rahm Emanuel since 2010.

Sterling Bay has contributed $7,500 to the mayor’s campaign fund.

“Through partnerships with local businesses, we can create much needed amenities for neighborhood residents while saving taxpayer dollars,” Emanuel was quoted as saying in a press release.

“These new projects will benefit—not just the neighborhoods where they are located, but communities across the city.”

The contributions by Friedman Properties and Sterling Bay mark the latest in a series of partnerships between the city and private developers aimed at bankrolling projects cash-strapped Chicago might otherwise be unable to afford.

The mayor’s 2017 budget calls for forging ahead with a previously shelved, $31 million plan to turn 311 non-emergency into a two-way communications system without the privatization that sparked a mini-rebellion in the City Council.

The overhaul will be bankrolled by the sale of 18 acres of prime riverfront property near Goose Island that houses the city’s largest vehicle maintenance facility. It will be sold to a developer after Fleet Management moves that facility to Chicago’s impoverished but rebounding Englewood community.

The new Near West Side library will fill a void.

The closest libraries to one of Chicago’s fastest-growing neighborhoods are located at 1101 W. Taylor, 6 S. Hoyne and 1625 W. Chicago.

Sterling Bay originally planned to build the library in a building it owns in Fulton Market. That plan was shelved in favor of a more centrally-located site, according to local Ald. Walter Burnett (27th).

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