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Plans for mega-development ‘The 78’ discussed at community meeting

Ald.-elect Byron Sigcho-Lopez, whose 25th Ward would be home to "The 78," promised transparency at a Tuesday night meeting as he and his constituents discuss the status of the controversial mixed-use development that would create Chicago's 78th neighborhood in the South Loop and Chinatown. | Nader Issa/Sun-Times

Residents shared concerns but didn’t get many concrete answers Tuesday at a community meeting about “The 78,” one of two mega-projects that was granted record-breaking public funding by the City Council last week.

Developers at the meeting said they’re still early in the planning process. Still, Ald.-elect Byron Sigcho-Lopez, whose 25th Ward would be home to the project, promised transparency as it moves forward.

The first step, he said, was to give his constituents updates at Tuesday’s meeting on the status of the controversial mixed-use development that would create Chicago’s 78th neighborhood in the South Loop and Chinatown.

“We have a big project on our hands, and the residents of the 25th Ward have a lot of questions,” Sigcho-Lopez told those in attendance at the meeting at a South Loop bar. “I heard from a lot of people who said, ‘We thought this was a done deal, there’s nothing else that can be done.’ Well, there’s a lot still pending.”

Representatives from Related Midwest, the project’s developer, said some of the new infrastructure changes that would use public dollars include a new CTA Red Line station at 15th Street, an extension of several streets to connect Chinatown to downtown, a shifted Metra line and an extension of the downtown recreational riverwalk.

Jaime Brown, 31, lives in the South Loop and helped organize the meeting. One of Brown’s concerns is about where children would go to school since “The 78” includes 10,000 new housing units.

“Residents haven’t been given the opportunity to give proper input,” Brown said. “I’m not anti-development, I’m for responsible development.”

The reps from Related Midwest said they would conduct a study to determine which schools students could attend, or if new schools would be needed.

Sigcho-Lopez, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, was elected in this month’s runoff to replace disgraced outgoing Ald. Danny Solis. During his campaign, he called on plans for the “The 78” to be held off until he took office.

That request was ignored last week when City Council approved a $700 million subsidy for “The 78” and $900 million more in tax increment funding to “Lincoln Yards,” another mixed-use development on the North Side.

While the council voted on the two projects, Sigcho-Lopez and six other newly elected progressive aldermen joined chanting protesters who blocked traffic outside City Hall. Progressive activists have bemoaned the use of public tax dollars, which are meant for blighted neighborhoods, to fund projects near downtown and on the North Side.

The City Council vote was the final approval for two of the biggest projects in Chicago history, but details of the project are still up in the air.