Votes on Lincoln Yards, The 78 Developments Delayed

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel called for the delay out of respect for Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot, sparking high drama just minutes before the committee meeting was scheduled to begin

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Monday that he would delay votes on financing for two major proposed developments, Lincoln Yards and the 78, at the request of Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot, who asked for time to address concerns about the projects.

"In our first meeting, as well as in subsequent conversations, I made it very clear to the Mayor-elect that I would not move forward on these projects if she wanted to delay the process," Emanuel said in a statement.

"While I firmly believe in the value of these projects to the entire city, out of respect for her wishes and request, I will honor my commitment and delay the vote. I am hopeful that under the mayor-elect’s leadership of the new City Council these critical projects will move forward and bring the kind of investment and job creation that has been a hallmark of the past eight years."

The City Council's Finance Committee was slated to vote on deals to fund both projects in a meeting scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. on Monday. Emanuel's statement was a reversal from his earlier plans to see the projects through before leaving office in May, sparking high drama just minutes before the meeting was expected to begin. 

Lincoln Yards is a $6 billion proposed development from Sterling Bay to build skyscrapers, housing units, retail storefronts, green space and more on roughly 50 acres of riverfront property at the site of the old Finkl and Sons steel mill, bordered by the Kennedy Expressway, Webster, Clybourn, and North avenues, between the Lincoln Park and Bucktown neighborhoods.

The 78 is a separate mixed-use proposal from developer Related Midwest, slated for 62 acres bordered by Clark Street, Roosevelt Road, 16th Street and the Chicago River in the city's South Loop neighborhood.

The Finance Committee was expected to vote Monday on tax increment financing (TIF) deals for the developers, which have drawn criticism from some opposed to setting aside roughly $1.3 billion for Lincoln Yards and $700 million for the 78 to be used for infrastructure improvements, from the city's cash-strapped coffers.

Activists have also criticized the amount of affordable housing proposed in the plans for each development, with a sizable crowd at City Hall on Monday in protest of the pending votes. 

Late Sunday night, Lightfoot called for Monday's committee meeting to be "subject matter" in nature, rather than a vote, to "address major concerns" about the projects.

"From day one, I have raised concerns about these deals and the deeply flawed process that has led us to this moment," Lightfoot said in a statement.

"That’s why I’m calling for the committee meeting tomorrow to be a transparent and fulsome subject matter hearing to address questions including consequences for other TIF districts, affordable housing options, plans for minority- and women-owned businesses, and impacts on diversity, population density, schools, traffic, and other factors," her statement continued. "For major development projects to drive equitable economic growth, they must be coupled with community input and a transparent, informed decision-making process."

After Emanuel reversed course Monday morning, it initially appeared as though the Finance Committee was poised to continue moving forward with the vote, with Ald. Brian Hopkins, who is not on the Finance Committee but whose ward would include the Lincoln Yards development, emphatic in his support of both proposals.

"We don't fight old battles, so if Mayor-elect Lightfoot feels like she didn't prevail on this, it won't matter," he told reporters ahead of the committee meeting.

"We have many other challenges in this city that we have to face and we're not gonna continue to re-litigate Lincoln Yards and the 78 over and over again," Hopkins continued. "That's not how it works. This will be determined by a roll-call vote of this body and we'll see how it goes."

When asked about Emanuel's latest stance, Hopkins responded, "The mayor's not on the Finance Committee."

Hopkins added that Ald. Pat O'Connor - who lost his bid for re-election last week but was recently tapped to chair the powerful finance committee after Ald. Ed Burke was ousted following a criminal corruption charge - has been a "fair" chairman and "knows" how the committee process works.

"If there's sufficient support to move something forward, and if one of the members of the Finance Committee makes the appropriate motion, that motion will be heard, that motion will be voted on," Hopkins said.

But at the outset of the meeting, O'Connor said that the Finance Committee would not take a vote on either proposal Monday, instead hearing testimony on the projects before recessing the meeting until Wednesday.

O'Connor said the committee would delay the votes "hoping that the 48 hours between now and then will allow representatives of both the mayor's office and the mayor-elect's office to determine if there's been enough information given to allow the projects to move forward at that time."

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