For Andy Gloor, CEO of the firm Sterling Bay, the Lincoln Yards project has been “the hardest deal” in his 28 years in real estate.
So with elation mixed with relief, Gloor celebrated Tuesday with contractors, city officials and community supporters at a ceremonial groundbreaking for a life sciences building on the North Side property. As the first part of a projected $6 billion residential and commercial development, the construction start was a kickoff for Lincoln Yards itself, in the planning stages for more than five years.
Investors and city planners see it as a revival of riverfront land that will connect prosperous areas of the Near North Side, Bucktown and Lincoln Park. “Lincoln Yards is a new community that will transform an old industrial brownfield. I mean, right here is where they used to park garbage trucks and the salt pile,” Gloor said from a podium set up outside the site of the first building at 1229 W. Concord Place.
Gloor said that by providing space for a booming market in biomedical research, Lincoln Yards will help Chicago compete internationally for talent. The first building, at eight stories and 320,000 square feet, will go up on the southern end of Lincoln Yards’ 53 acres. The building was designed by Gensler.
Lincoln Yards has withstood criticism of the public subsidies attached to it. A tax increment financing agreement obliges the city to fund up to $1.3 billion in infrastructure work the project will require over many years. Supporters say the help is needed to bring even greater benefits to public coffers and the city itself.
Gloor said that at a time of worries about crime, Lincoln Yards will generate thousands of jobs. “Nothing stops violence like a job,” he said.
Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) said the project will yield other benefits, including added parkland, an extension of The 606 hiking and biking trail, a new Metra station and, eventually, an untangling of the traffic knot at the Ashland-Armitage-Elston intersection.
“The contamination and the toxicity of this plot of land when it was purchased by Sterling Bay was off the charts, and it has been cleaned up not at public expense but at the expense of the people who intend to continue transforming this land,” Hopkins said.
Sterling Bay executives said several firms they could not name have committed to leasing space in the first building, which it calls Ally. It will offer lab space, river frontage and flexible floor plans to accommodate companies with changing space needs.
Some tenants are expected to move from a Sterling Bay-owned property at 2430 N. Halsted St., a 120,000-square-foot life sciences building that a spokeswoman said is half-leased. One tenant in the building, SOLVD Health, has said it plans to expand to the Lincoln Yards site.
In an interview, Gloor said the pandemic has intensified demand for biomedical research space and that he plans to include more of it at Lincoln Yards. With 1 million square feet leased to life sciences firms, Chicago could use another 19 million square feet, he said, noting that life sciences firms like to cluster.
Suzet McKinney, director of life sciences at Sterling Bay, said the demand is coming from the training and research available at the area’s universities. Higher education fuels the startups, but many jobs in life sciences do not require a college education, she said.
“This city can hang its hat on its robust, educated and hardworking talent pool, which is truly second to none,” McKinney said.