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Lightfoot to One Central developer: ‘We’re not gonna ram through anything’

The massive One Central development — seen in an artist’s rendering — that’s proposed just west of Soldier Field would include several high-rise buildings with offices, residences, retail space and a hotel.
Backers of the proposed One Central project say the massive 34-acre development would better connect Soldier Field and the Museum Campus with the city. | Landmark Development

Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot had a message Thursday for a Wisconsin developer pressing for quick legislative action to pave the way for construction of One Central, a massive development over railroad tracks west of Soldier Field.

That message: Not so fast.

“I’ve been very clear that I think that any development of a certain scale — and this would certainly qualify — has to be done through a thoughtful process that engages the communities that are gonna be most impacted,” Lightfoot told the Chicago Sun-Times.

“We’re not gonna ram through anything. I understand that they’re talking about a very fast-track timeline. I know there’s been discussions about this project for some time. But there’s a new administration that’s gonna be stood up in a matter of days. And we’re gonna approach these megaprojects in a very different way. I’ve been very clear about that.”

Lightfoot said she has a laundry list of questions before she will sign off on developer Bob Dunn’s plan to have Dunn and his investors front the $3.8 billion cost to deck over railroad tracks west of Soldier Field and build a transportation center; they then want to join the state in paying off the cost of the transit station by using tax, lease and parking revenues generated by the One Central project.

Public transit connections planned at the proposed One Central. The team behind the project says it would font the $3.8 billion cost of a transit center which would serve as the foundation for the multi-high-rise development. | Landmark Development
Public transit connections planned at the proposed One Central. The team behind the project says it would font the $3.8 billion cost of a transit center which would serve as the foundation for the multi-high-rise development. | Landmark Development

That’s another form of tax-increment-financing (TIF), much like the $1.6 billion in TIF subsidies recently approved by the City Council for two other megaprojects: Lincoln Yards and “the 78,” a huge, undeveloped parcel south of Roosevelt Road between Clark Street and the Chicago River.

Lightfoot convinced the City Council to delay the vote on those two projects, only to let them go through in the end after persuading developers to bolster minority participation in both.

At the time, she told developers to “enjoy this moment in the sun because you’re never going to get a deal like this again out of the city of Chicago as long as I’m mayor.”

On Thursday, she was asked how that philosophy might apply to the One Central project, which calls for a high-rise collection of perhaps 10 buildings with residential and commercial uses — almost a self-contained city for the Near South Side.

“I have a lot of questions … about the impact on surrounding neighborhoods, particularly developments that you can see, which would be just west of this proposed development. A lot of that development is relatively new. I also want to see what the traffic plan is gonna be, what the infrastructure plan is gonna be,” she said.

“I know, in theory they are not asking for city dollars, as I understand it. But, it’s obviously gonna have a significant impact on the city — for good or for bad — and I want to understand better what the plan is and ask all the questions residents of the city would expect us to ask before I could form an opinion about it, either positive or negative.”

A massive project, “The 78,” planned for a 62-acre site at Roosevelt Road and Clark Street, is slated for hundreds of millions in tax-increment financing money. | Provided photo
A massive project, “The 78,” planned for a 62-acre site at Roosevelt Road and Clark Street, is slated for hundreds of millions in tax-increment financing money. | Provided photo

With less than three weeks to go before the inauguration, Lightfoot stressed that “no one from the project has reached out to me or my team as far as I know on what the plan is.” All she knows is what she has read in the newspaper.

But Lightfoot said she is wary of a developer who says he needs quick action in an already jam-packed legislative session dominated by a host of more pressing and complicated issues.

They include: the state budget and assorted tax increases; Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s plan for a graduated income tax; and Pritzker’s plan to legalize recreational marijuana and legalize and tax sports betting.

Does that mean she’s the vote that Dunn says he needs during the spring session to take advantage of expiring tax breaks and a favorable economic climate?

“I’m not ruling out or ruling in anything. … I have not been briefed on the particulars of this project. And if they want to have mayoral and city support, that has to happen,” Lightfoot said.

“Plus, they have to demonstrate to me that they’ve engaged in a public process where people in the community who will be most impacted have had an opportunity to understand the project and have their say.”

Dunn, president of Landmark Development Co., issued a statement in response to Lightfoot. It read, in part, “We have every intention of continuing to engage in an open and thoughtful process with the city and community interests. We look forward to the opportunity to brief the mayor-elect and explain the merits of One Central and working with her new administration.”

He has said that state legislation is needed quickly because a federal program that could provide $1 billion in financing for the project is set to expire at the year’s end. Any delay also raises the specter of higher interest rates that would make the project more expensive.