On Thursday, the Chicago Plan Commission is scheduled to vote on the massive $5 billion Lincoln Yards development.
The mega-project, a mix of commercial and residential development in the Lincoln Park and Bucktown neighborhoods, has long been in the works. Ald. Brian Hopkins, whose 2nd Ward is home to the 55-acre riverfront site, wants to forge ahead full speed. Jobs, more park space, improved public transit, infrastructure improvements and more are at stake, Hopkins wrote in an op-ed in the Chicago Tribune.
Sounds great. It’s also worth noting that developer Sterling Bay, bowing to pressure from Hopkins, scrapped plans for a 20,000-seat soccer stadium and a large entertainment district that critics of the project didn’t want. Instead, an 11-acre park will be built on that part of the site.
With Hopkins’ backing, the Plan Commission is all but certain to give the project a green light, paving the way for City Council’s OK.
But Hopkins should hit the pause button.
A mega-project like Lincoln Yards, which will take years to complete and is in line for a huge taxpayer subsidy, ought to have overwhelming buy-in. Yet more than a dozen organizations, large and small, still have objections. That’s proof that a strong buy-in just isn’t there, not yet.
A coalition of community organizations, small business groups and parks advocates held a press conference Monday asking Hopkins and Mayor Rahm Emanuel to delay Thursday’s vote until additional public meetings on the final plan, which Sterling Bay submitted just days ago, are held. The #DelayTheVote coalition recently wrote an open letter to Hopkins asking for a delay and accusing the alderman of reneging on a promise to “continue the community planning process for as long as it takes,” until any “lingering questions” are answered.
“We, as Chicagoans, know that this is a city plagued with parking meter deals and red-light camera scandals. This is why this needs to be slowed down. There’s no such thing as a Daniel Burnham plan that gets pushed through in a few months,” Juanita Irizarry, executive director of Friends of the Parks, said at the press conference.
Others spoke in the same vein. “A new neighborhood that will impact and shape our city for the next century or two is not something to be rushed through and rubber-stamped,” said Rev. Liala Beukema, pastor of LakeView Lutheran Church.
There’s real skepticism, too, about Emanuel’s proposal to create a new tax-increment financing district to funnel $900 million to Sterling Bay for infrastructure improvements in the area.
Note to city officials: Chicagoans have gotten wise, so to speak, about TIF districts. Be prepared to work overtime to justify every taxpayer dollar that gets handed to private developers.
Then too, Emanuel and City Council are both lame ducks, as Steve Jensen of the Bucktown Community Organization noted to the Sun-Times. “The developer has stated it will take over 25 years to build this project out. We see no reason why they can’t wait another month,” Jensen said.
Plus, what about the impact of this development on small, independent music venues, whose representative on the coalition still has questions about the project?
And we’re wondering ourselves about park space — will there be enough?
Hopkins and the mayor’s office deny that they’re rushing Lincoln Yards. “This is an outstanding proposal to convert 50 acres of abandoned industrial land and build a new mixed-use development that will lead the way for the future of Chicago,” Hopkins said. “When you’re doing something of this scope and magnitude, you’ll never get 100 percent agreement that it’s the right thing to do.”
Hopkins wants critics to be specific about changes they want to see in the latest proposal. That’s fair.
It also sounds like a good rationale for another public meeting or two.
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