Development the "Chicago way": Sterling Bay/Lincoln Yards

Date: 
04/08/2019
LincolnYardsSite

Sterling Bay's Lincoln Yards site

UPDATE: Lightfoot asked Finance Committee Chairman Patrick O'Connor to make Monday's meeting a "subject matter hearing" which generally excludes a vote, according to Crain's Danny Ecker around midnight Sunday.

There is a full court press to pass the $1.3* billion Cortland and Chicago River TIF at Monday's City Council Finance Committee vote and the City Council vote on Wednesday, Mayor Emanuel's last Council meeting before leaving his eight year, fifth floor reign of Chicago's City Hall. 

Leading up to these votes, many Chicagoans have been very vocal about lack of transparency, obfuscation techniques, stalling tactics in the release of project specifics, etc. 

Yet, Emanuel, David Reifman, Commissioner, Department of Planning and Development (DPD), developer Sterling Bay and all their funders and resources along with a large number of aldermen don't appear to care about anything except "I want what I want, and I want it, now!" 

As though from the plot of an Al Capone TV series, some observers of the Lincoln Yards project and its linked TIF (Tax Increment Funding) are sarcastically saying, "Ya, that's the Chicago way, right?" 

In public at all the large meetings and many smaller ones, Sterling Bay (SB) owners, consultants and employees have, for the most part, dealt with questioners calmly and respectfully. 

However, out of the public eye and often one-on-one, it is a different story. 

At least some not-for-profit organizations receiving city funding were "urged" to "sign up" to support the project. Individuals and businesses who were vocally opposed to the TIF and/or the lack of process and transparency had their livelihoods threatened. 

As horrifying and outrageous as this is to many Chicagoans, these practices are not new. 

A proponent of slowing down the approval of the Lincoln Yards project and its TIF until the new Mayor and Council are in place, Juanita Irizarry, Executive Director, Friends of the Park (FOTP), says, "This [Lincoln Yards] reminds me of our battle over the Lucas Museum. There appears to be a pattern. 

"Some board members resigned because they had their livelihoods threatened," she explained. "Other non-profits were told that their funding could be affected if they supported us." 

Residents and local businesses continue to demand more information
Demands for more information from the community have been relentless. While Sterling Bay has responded to some requests, there continues to be obfuscation from them and the City on many facts around the project. 

Sterling Bay, in an effort to neutralize some opposition in January removed a 20,000-seat soccer stadium from the plan. That was to have been a partnership with Tom Ricketts, Chicago Cubs owner. Also removed was the Live Nation, with ties to Emanuel, entertainment district, which was to include smaller event spaces of 100 to 8,000. 

However, the Chicago Independent Venues League (C.I.V.L.), which is composed of small performance spaces across the city, such as The Hideout, Subterranean, Schubas, Metro, Empty Bottle, still has been given no information about Sterling Bay's final plans that could have a major impact on their businesses. 

Issues around inadequate public park land, properly vetted project components such as infrastructure, traffic and open space, to name a few, have residents and businesses from several neighborhoods demanding a slow down on approval for the TIF. 

Most say they are not opposed to the project but they are opposed to the TIF and the lack of transparency around both. 

In hopes of clariifying many facts, Lincoln Park resident, Reatha Kay, submitted a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request on Sept. 13, 2018, to DPD. Her request was dragged on. When given a response, much material was redacted or not provided. The City gave many excuses for not complying with the request. 

Kay then contacted Illinois' State's Attorney General Kwame Raoul. His office determined that she should have received more information. She still hasn't.

Reading the stack of emails and documents shows a trail of obfuscations. 

Kay's efforts continue. 

TIF ordinances
The ordinances to be voted on for establishment of the Cortland and Chicago River TIF are shown below: 

02019-2185

Adoption of Tax Increment Allocation Financing (TIF) for Cortland and Chicago River Redevelopment Project Area--Defines district boundaries; adopts redevelopment plan; sets maximum budget

O2019-2583*

Redevelopment agreement (RDA) with Alloy Property Company LLC and Fleet Portfolio LLC and acquisition of property in area bounded by Webster Ave, Clybourn Ave, North Ave, Elston Ave and Besly Court for infrastructure and mixed use development project to be known as Lincoln Yards

O2019-2149

Second Amendment to redevelopment plan for North Branch (North) Redevelopment Project Area

O2019-2162

Approval of Cortland and Chicago River Redevelopment Project Area Redevelopment Plan

O2019-2170

Designation of Cortland and Chicago River Redevelopment Project Area as Tax Increment Financing (TIF) District

*In this document, Lone Star Funds is listed as one of two major investors. As reported in the Chicago Reporter, Lone Star "has a business model that aggressively drives up foreclosures and evictions in low-income communities."

Forbes reports on Lone Star's John Grayken as being "Among the robber barons of the new millennium, few are as secretive--or as loathed or as successful--as John Grayken... It's even doubtful Grayken is well liked within his own firm." 

Vote expectations
Many aldermen have been saying that they are not going to vote for the TIF because of the affordable housing component. 

Mayor-Elect Lori Lightfoot has requested that this not be put through City Council now but rather under her new administration. On Friday, she told the Chicago Sun-Times' Fran Spielman, “I want to understand the contract. It’s 600 pages. So I’ve got a team of lawyers that are tearing that apart now and looking at it. We’ll make our decision over the weekend. 

“I want to make sure that we’re getting the best possible deal for the city going forward and that we’re not hamstrung on other great economic development needs on the South and West Side.”

Image: Sterling Bay

*Originally mistyped as $1.6

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