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Votes are there to approve $1.6B in TIF subsidies for mega-projects: O’Connor

Ald. Patrick J. O'Connor and Mayor Rahm Emanuel at a Chicago City Council meeting in 2016. File Photo. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

The votes are there to approve $1.6 billion in tax-increment-financing subsidies to unlock the development potential of two massive projects — Lincoln Yards and “The 78” — and it’s full speed ahead on Monday unless Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot calls a halt to the vote.

That was the word Thursday from Finance Committee Chairman Pat O’Connor (40th), Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s City Council floor leader.

O’Connor lost his aldermanic runoff Tuesday to Andre Vasquez, a 39-year-old former rapper who was endorsed by United Working Families and the Chicago Democratic Socialists of America.

But until the new City Council is sworn in on May 20, O’Connor still holds the chairman’s gavel that Ald. Edward Burke (14th) relinquished after being charged with attempted extortion.

That puts O’Connor in the driver’s seat on the two mega-projects that Emanuel is pushing to complete before both he and O’Connor leave office.

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Lightfoot has urged the City Council to slow down on both projects. She has been particularly vocal about Lincoln Yards, arguing that the revised plan for 600 affordable housing units on site are simply not enough.

But unless he hears otherwise between now and Monday, O’Connor plans to forge ahead with the Finance Committee vote on TIF subsidies for both Lincoln Yards and the 78.

“It’s on the agenda,” O’Connor said.

Are the votes there to approve both subsidies?

“I’m told they are. I’m told that both of those projects from the standpoint of [vote] totals appear to be okay,” O’Connor said.

The $900 million TIF subsidy to reimburse developer Sterling Bay for infrastructure projects at Lincoln Yards has been controversial at a time when the city is facing a $1 billion spike in pension payments.

Those projects include wider roads, revamped intersections, new bridges, a new Clybourn Metra station and a “multimodal corridor” that may include “high-capacity buses.”

The newly created Roosevelt/Clark TIF surrounding the South Loop project known as the 78 is expected to generate at least $700 million to bankroll job training and a host of infrastructure improvements needed to access that long-dormant site.

Those projects include: extending Wells Street to Wentworth Avenue; moving and enclosing Metra tracks running along Clark Street 300 feet to the west; extending 15th Street into the site to connect with Wells; a new Taylor Street bridge; and a new Red Line stop at 15th and State streets.

“There’s a lot of controversy. I suppose you could look at it a number of ways. But I think the mayor-elect might be happy for the cash infusion coming in over the course of the next 20 years from those potential projects And the same thing for the Divvy thing — $7-to-$9 million coming in,” O’Connor said Thursday.

Is O’Connor saying the City Council is doing Lightfoot a favor by dispatching of both controversial projects before she takes office?

“From my perspective, I think it would be helpful to a new mayor coming in to have projects that will produce significant taxes going forward,” he said.

But what about Lightfoot’s statements during the campaign? She criticized aldermen and Emanuel for rushing both projects through and demanded that they slow down.

“Now, the election is over. They’re having, like discussions that are not involved in the politics of getting elected,” O’Connor said.

“I’m gonna assume that the discussions are gonna take place and somebody in this building is gonna communicate to me what the desire is….Right now, it’s on the agenda and we plan on having a meeting on Monday.”

As for the defeat that will bring his 36-year career in the City Council to a close, O’Connor was a man of few words.

He plans to dissect the loss after completing, what he called a “ton of work” needed to prepare for Wednesday’s City Council meeting.

“I knew going into it that it was a possibility. So clearly, I’m not jumping off any bridges at this point in time,” he said.

What about all of that jockeying for committee chairmanships that’s going on in the hallways at City Hall?

“Every mayor and every council has their own personality. Everybody chooses to determine whether they want to try and work things through and be productive. Some folks make a living out of being against things and obstreperous,” O’Connor said.

“Everybody chooses their own path, and they’ll live with it.”