Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) on Tuesday put the kibosh on two major elements of Sterling Bay’s massive Lincoln Yards development: a 20,000-seat soccer stadium and a live entertainment district controlled by LiveNation with large music venues.
In a move that’s expected to be wildly popular with his park-starved constituents, Hopkins demanded that the site earmarked for a stadium that would have been home to a team owned by the billionaire owner of the Cubs be “repurposed as open and recreational space.”
The now-nixed entertainment district would have been co-owned by LiveNation and included multiple venues seating anywhere from 3,000 to 6,000 patrons.
In November, the Hideout and several other small music venues in Chicago said they were “banding together” in an effort to slow the project for fear it would starve them of talent and drive them out of business.
Hopkins’ opposition to that aspect of Sterling Bay’s plan means that the proposed entertainment district “will be eliminated from a revised plan and replaced by restaurants, theaters, and smaller venues that will be scattered throughout the site.”
LiveNation “will have no ownership interest in any of these venues,” Hopkins said.
The alderman said his decision to nix the two key elements stemmed from an avalanche of opposition to the stadium and entertainment district unleashed in a pair of neighborhood surveys and in emails, phone calls and testimony at jam-packed community hearings on the Lincoln Yards development.
“The idea of 20,000 fans coming to an event, then leaving hours later creating massive traffic tie-ups throughout the community—not just on the Kennedy. All the arterial streets in the vicinity would have become gridlocked,” Hopkins said.
“There would have been many other events besides soccer matches. Concerts and other things. In order to justify the cost of building such a structure, it became clear that it would need to be utilized somewhat regularly. That just put an undue burden on the neighborhood. There didn’t seem to be a way to solve that.”
The entertainment district raised similar concerns because of the size of the venues that would have been included, Hopkins said.
“A 6,000-seat venue, a 5,000-seat venue and a 4,000-seat venue…That was over 10,000 right there in that same location. Same impact,” the alderman said.
“In addition to that, the independent music scene in Chicago was very concerned that LiveNation was one of the owners of the district. They had an equity stake in it. They felt that would be unfair competition to the independent music venues. By removing the entertainment district, that takes LiveNation’s equity stake out. That should satisfy concerns of the independent music promoters.”
The proposed stadium would have been home to a United Soccer League franchise owned by Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts, though it would also have hosted other community and sporting events.
Dennis Culloton, a spokesperson for the Ricketts family, said the family’s “potential involvement was focused on the soccer team and contingent on city approvals.”
“While we are disappointed the concept is no longer included in the master plan, we understand the ambitious Lincoln Yards project needs to move forward,” Culloton said in a statement.
Andy Gloor, managing principal of Sterling Bay, could not be reached.
In a statement, Sterling Bay accepted Hopkins’ stand as the final verdict.
“Alderman Hopkins and residents have been very clear: they do not want a stadium. And we want to say: we heard you loud and clear,” the statement said.
“We have removed the stadium and broken up the entertainment district, allowing for assorted smaller venues throughout Lincoln Yards where all independent music operators will have the opportunity to participate. We have also heard the desire for improved transit and infrastructure in the area, a desire we share.”
Under the developer’s revised plan, the proposed Concord/Wisconsin Bridge will now be for both vehicular and pedestrian access, the statement said.
“This bridge, along with the renovated Cortland Bridge, new Armitage bridge, new Dominick bridge, and extended 606, creates five viable routes across the Chicago River,” the developer said.
“Further, Ald. Hopkins has received a commitment from CDOT that they will swiftly pursue the realignment of Elston/Armitage/Ashland.”
Hopkins’s stand appears to remove at least one obstacle to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to persuade the City Council to approve $1.7 billion in tax-increment-financing (TIF) subsidies to unlock the development potential of four megasites in and around the downtown area.
The largest subsidy — up to $800 million — would be earmarked for Lincoln Yards. That will require the city to create a new TIF.
“The project has the ability to be extremely successful without a large stadium and without an entertainment district . . . There’s a path to make this work with the kind of limited venue approach the alderman referenced,” Planning and Development Commissioner David Reifman said.
“The main direction from the mayor on this is, find that balance that is fair overall . . . This is a step toward achieving that balance . . . This opens up a path to a level of compromise to move the project forward.”