One Central developer says lakefront megaproject on track after deal inked with Metra

Bob Dunn of Landmark Development has an agreement for his project to build on air rights over commuter tracks near Solider Field.

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An overhead view of Soldier Field and the railroad tracks west of it. One Central would be built on air rights over the tracks.

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The developer of the $20 billion One Central megaproject proposed near Soldier Field voiced confidence Tuesday in its feasibility despite the pandemic and cited progress in dealing with public transit agencies that are key to its success.

Bob Dunn, president of Landmark Development, said he had reached an agreement with Metra that would govern work to build “above, alongside and beneath” the Metra Electric tracks without disrupting commuter operations. His project foresees more than 9,000 residences, a hotel and office space built on air rights over the tracks.

Without spending of its own, Metra would get a maintenance yard and a replacement of its 18th Street station. It would be part of a $3.8 billion transit connection for the CTA and Amtrak that Dunn’s firm would build, taking the financial risk, and the state would eventually buy. Dunn has proposed putting a new CTA station at the site but discussions are still in an early stage.

Dunn said the project’s long-term nature and its design that requires the transit and civic improvements come first work in its favor. “You’re going to see multiple turns in the economy” over the life of the project, he told the Sun-Times Editorial Board. “A pandemic is a different factor than we’ve contended with before, but it’s not totally novel.”

He said market analyses show many economic impacts of COVID-19 will be short term. Dunn said he hopes to deliver the transit piece in 2025, before any high-rise development can begin. “We actually believe that it will time well during the COVID recovery period and then the growth that we believe will follow,” he said.

Metra released its own statement confirming “an initial memorandum of understanding” with the developer, calling it a “golden opportunity” for overdue improvements. “While Metra is excited by the potential benefits of this development, we have taken no position on Landmark’s specific ridership, tax revenue and economic impact projections,” the commuter service said.

CTA spokesman Brian Steele said the agency is having productive talks with the developer. “Large-scale proposed developments such as this bring an opportunity to explore transit improvements that could benefit the entire city, and CTA is committed to examining the infrastructure and operational considerations of any transit proposals,” Steele said.

Dunn said economic analyses prepared for the project bolster his argument that it promises benefits over many years while helping South Side residents by generating jobs and cutting commute times. He said he’s working on an agreement with the CTA about using an existing rail right-of-way to connect to the Orange Line.

While noting that the project is still “in the early innings” and that city approvals are still needed, Dunn said the federal government’s interest in transit and infrastructure spending should benefit his proposal. He ultimately is promising a rich source of tax revenue from about 34 acres that now yield little money for public agencies.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do with the city but, again, we believe the merits, all the things we have learned, support the vision for One Central,” he said.

In January, Dunn unveiled a revised design at a virtual meeting with residents of the 3rd Ward, which includes the property. He proposed realigning nine eventual high-rises while adding green space and improving connections to the Central Station neighborhood to the west.

His proposed first phase would include the “civic build” that includes the transit hub. Also coming early would be a retail and entertainment center and mid-rise residential buildings.

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