City Council

Lincoln Yards, The 78: Chicago City Council Approves Development Deals

Chicago City Council passed funding deals for two new major developments Wednesday, giving the projects the green light after the proposals hit a dramatic snag earlier in the week.

Votes on financing the Lincoln Yards and The 78 developments passed the Finance Committee, then the full City Council on Wednesday. The 78 passed the full council by a vote of 31 in favor to 13 opposed, while plans for Lincoln Yards passed by a vote of 32 to 13.

The projects appeared to stall Monday when Mayor Rahm Emanuel asked the Finance Committee members, just minutes before their meeting, to delay the votes at the request of Chicago Mayor-elect Lightfoot, who had asked for time to address concerns about the projects.

Emanuel's request for a delay Monday was a brief reversal from his earlier vows to see the projects through before leaving office in May, sparking high drama that underscored a tension between the agendas of the incoming mayor and aldermen, and that of the outgoing City Council.

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.

Ending a tense back-and-forth at City Hall Monday morning, Finance Committee Chair Ald. Pat O'Connor said the committee would postpone the votes until Wednesday, "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."

That strategy began to bear fruit late Tuesday night, when Lightfoot said in a statement that the deals were "likely to pass" based on conversations with Emanuel, community stakeholders and aldermen, and after her team met with the developers of both projects.

The tax increment financing (TIF) deals for the developers 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, among other issues, with a sizable crowd at City Hall on Monday and Wednesday in protest of the pending votes.

One protest outside City Hall on Wednesday included six aldermen-elect, holding a sign that read "Money for Schools, Not the 1%" in a demonstration that highlighted tension between the incoming and outgoing City Council.

Lightfoot did not directly address all previously-raised concerns Tuesday night, but said both developers had agreed to increase commitments to minority-owned and women-owned business enterprises from their original terms of $80 million, to $400 million overall, and that the developers agreed to terms giving the city the ability to measure their compliance with that commitment.

"These changes represent a vital sign that my administration will be able to make progress toward an equitable and fair deal for our communities," her statement said.

"There remains much more work to do in this regard, and I am hopeful we’ll be able to get there," Lightfoot continued. "Under the terms of both redevelopment agreements, we have confirmed that the City has additional controls over these projects, which I am confident will allow for us to further improve these deals and to bring community voices into the process going forward."

"I am not yet the mayor, and I recognize that the current administration and City Council must decide whether to carry this vote forward according to the interests of the constituents they serve," Lightfoot's statement said, adding a promise to "engage with the community and committed activists who have advocated forcefully for affordable housing, park space and the responsible use of tax increment financing dollars" once she takes office in May.

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