The Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce is beating the drum for a $19 billion project with the potential to produce six times that much tax revenue over 40 years, create 210,000 jobs and turn a shrinking city into a growing metropolis.
Wisconsin developer Bob Dunn, better known for his stadium projects, wants to deck over railroad tracks west of Soldier Field, parallel to Lake Shore Drive and build “One Central,” a city-within-a city that includes up to 10 high-rises.
The “deck” or “table top,” as Chicagoland Chamber CEO Jack Lavin likes to call it, would transform a 34-acre site that is now a “barrier between neighborhoods and lakefront attractions” into a transit center unlike any Chicago has seen.
Metra rail lines, Amtrak, the CTA Orange Line and a so-called “Chi-Line” along an under-used dedicated busway would all come together in one location. With trams or buses, Chicago would finally have its elusive downtown “circulator” linking McCormick Place, the Museum Campus, Navy Pier, Millennium Park and downtown hotels.
The recent City Council fight over the $1.7 billion tax increment financing subsidy for Lincoln Yards and “The 78” proves it won’t be smooth sailing for One Central. It faces many hurdles with Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot and a new, more progressive City Council that promises to be far more stingy with taxpayer subsides.
That’s apparently why the Chicagoland Chamber decided to get out ahead of the project, commissioning a study that underscores the potential economic benefits.
It shows an unsightly plot of land that now generates just $23,000 in annual property tax revenue could become a $120 billion cash cow over the next 40 years.
Even if the $3.8 billion “Civic Build” that includes the “table top and transit center” requires a significant contribution from Chicago taxpayers, it would be worth the investment, Lavin said.
It would dramatically increase the number of people living within a 45-minute commute of downtown, and could support 42 million CTA and Metra riders by year 40. That translates into $3.6 billion in “cumulative farebox revenue,” the study shows.
The transit improvements would help “drive economic development and job growth to South Loop and South Side neighborhoods” — to the tune of $9 billion over that 40-year period, consultants said.
With McCormick Place and the Museum Campus no longer “disconnected from downtown,” museum attendance, convention business and tourism would rise; the potential value of those gains is egged at $31.7 billion over the same 40-year period.
“Mayor-elect Lightfoot talks about balance between downtown and the neighborhoods. This is a unique project that creates that balance. Where there’s an obstacle to transit now, it takes that barrier down, makes the transit times lower and creates more opportunity for jobs and development on the South Side and south suburbs,” Lavin said.
“The transit hub — bringing local, regional and national transit together — is on par with projects happening now in London, Denver and Madrid. These are the types of projects that are transformative. If we want to get to 3 million residents, we need to make these types of bold and innovative investments … to attract new companies to a new location that’s on the lakefront with a campus-like setting.”
The $60,000 study was conducted by planning and engineering giant AECOM in conjunction with Ascend Infrastructure.
AECOM Vice-President Bill Abolt served as budget director and environment commissioner under former Mayor Richard M. Daley. Abolt said he’s well aware that a city contribution of any magnitude will be a tough sell with Lightfoot and the new City Council.
He also knows Lightfoot campaigned on a promise to focus on rebuilding long-neglected South and West Side neighborhoods.
But, he argued, the chamber’s decision to analyze the “broader economic and community benefit of making this investment around infrastructure early in the discussion — not late” has potential to define the debate.
“In terms of overall benefit to all of the region’s taxing bodies, you would create significant uplift and new revenue sources that should be more than sufficient to offset any public investment and not crowd out other much-needed capital investments — whether in the neighborhoods, the region or the city as a whole,” Abolt said.
Abolt acknowledged “some significant public policy decisions will have to be made” if the city decides to support the transit center portion of the project, but “what the chamber study demonstrates is, this is worth taking a look at.”
The project proposal indicates that of the 10 high-rises, one would be a hotel; three would be residential; two would be office towers and four would be “mixed use.”
Local Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) has demanded “significant revisions to building designs,” including a reduction in both density and building heights. She also wants the “physical security around the transit station increased” to “limit potential conflicts” with the surrounding neighborhood.
“The chamber can say what it wants,” Dowell said Tuesday. “I have to look at it from the point of view of what’s in the best interests of the people that I represent.”