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$60M Amazon facility in Pullman takes giant step forward — without property tax break

At the behest of local Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), the Transportation Committee sub-divided the massive site once owned by Ryerson Steel. The political feud between Beale and Mayor Lori Lightfoot did not stand in the way.

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) (left) congratulates David Doig, president of Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives.
Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) (left) congratulates David Doig, president of Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives, after the City Council’s Transportation Committee sub-divided the site at 103rd and Woodlawn that will now be developed for a $60 million Amazon facilty.
Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

It looks like a long-vacant Pullman industrial site will be turned into a $60 million Amazon distribution center in time for the Christmas holidays — and without a lucrative “Class 6B” property tax break.

The City Council’s Transportation Committee on Monday took the first concrete step to deliver the 200-job, 150,000 square-foot prize on a site at 103rd and Woodlawn once owned by Ryerson Steel.

At the behest of local Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), aldermen approved the so-called “plat and sub-divison,” creating the legal parcel that will now be developed by Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives and the Ryan Companies, Amazon’s designated developer.

The land is owned by Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives, a non-profit created by U.S. Bank and run by David Doig, who served as planning and development commissioner and Chicago Park District superintendent under former Mayor Richard M. Daley.

In late January, Beale said the project would require Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration to expedite building permits and put a so-called “Class 6B” property tax break on a fast-track toward City Council approval.

On Monday, developers changed gears. They decided to forge ahead without the lucrative property tax break because they need to get the center done by mid-October — in time to start delivering packages for the Christmas holidays.

“We need to deliver this facility to our tenant by the fall of 2020 and the schedule does not allow for us to pursue a Class 6B incentive,” said Curt Pascoe, director of real estate development for the Ryan Companies, developer and builder of the project.

Was the developer and builder concerned about being a casualty of the running political feud between Beale and Mayor Lori Lightfoot?

“No. It’s a matter of us being able to move forward and begin construction on the project and this is the quickest way forward,” Pascoe said.

Beale is a 20-year veteran alderman who was stripped of his committee chairmanship for opposing Lightfoot’s choice of Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) as Finance Committee chairman. He has since become one of the mayor’s most outspoken council critics.

On Monday, the alderman said he never had a conversation with the mayor about the project. And he’s not at all surprised that she didn’t stop it.

“We’re all looking to create jobs. It doesn’t make sense for anybody to get in the way of progress,” Beale said.

“It’s great access off the expressway. We’ve been able to get the Whole Foods Distribution Center, Method, Gotham Green — all those others. … This is just another great fit for this region for people to be able to get their packages in a day or so.”

Beale once touted the parcel as a site for a Chicago casino. But he opted Monday to grab the bird in hand.

“A casino could be, possibly, three or four years down the road. We’re bringing jobs to the community right now,” the alderman said.

Pascoe noted the vacant land, across the street from the 135,000-square-foot U.S. Bank Pullman Community Center has “never been developed.”

“It’s going to bring economic investment to the Far South Side and turn land that has never generated taxes, never generated jobs onto the tax rolls to bring jobs and taxes to the city,” he said.

In late January, Beale went public about the project, only to have Lightfoot tell reporters there was nothing “to talk about yet.” She accused Beale of “getting a little ahead of himself.”

Hours later, however, the mayor’s office acknowledged that, although it hadn’t “connected with Amazon on this deal directly,” city planners had, in fact, “spoken with the developer to discuss underlying zoning” for the proposed site.

“The City welcomes opportunities to drive inclusive economic growth for our South and West Side communities, and Pullman is one of our priority areas,” a statement from the mayor’s office said at the time.