Developer Sterling Bay unveiled its final master plan for the massive $6 billion Lincoln Yards proposal on Saturday morning, five days before a scheduled vote before the city’s Plan Commission.
The company says it has listened and responded to the concerns of community members who voiced displeasure over the project at several meetings. Gone is a proposed 20,000-seat minor league soccer stadium. In its place is more parkland, bringing the proposed total open space to 21 acres. The development is slated to rise on former industrial property along the North Branch of the Chicago River, bordered roughly by Clybourn on the east, Elston on the west, with Armitage and Cortland avenues as main east-west roadways.
The proposal also calls for several tall residential and office buildings, the highest of which will rise 650 feet. There are plans for at least six buildings taller than 500 feet and they would stand out amid the surrounding low-rise neighborhoods of Bucktown and Lincoln Park.
Sterling Bay divides the grounds into two general areas – Lincoln Yards North and South – and five “character zones” within those areas, promising each will contain vibrant commercial corridors, walkable and public space and mixed-use development. Publicly accessible riverwalk space is also part of the plan.
The proposal calls for major infrastructure upgrades to the area, including long-sought improvements to Armitage Avenue and Cortland Street, a relocated Clybourn Metra Station pushed further east, as well as an extension of the elevated Bloomingdale Trail, aka the 606. Mayor Rahm Emanuel has proposed an $800 million tax increment financing district in the area that would likely pay for these upgrades, and his administration has also floated the idea of a “public transit way” that would connect the area to the Loop.
The development is slated to go before the city’s Plan Commission for a vote Thursday, which has prompted alarm from some skeptics who say they feel the plan is being forced down the community’s throat without ample time to review it.
“For something that involves that much taxpayer money and 52 acres worth of development, it would be very unusual for this to proceed to the Plan Commission next week,” said 43rd Ward Ald. Michele Smith, who has also pushed strongly for the city to purchase adjacent land owned by the General Iron company to create a public park.
Other community members say they feel the project has been fast-tracked and shrouded in secrecy, despite the publicly available proposals and meetings.
“We want to know if we’re going to get 24 acres of public park space, and if its public or private, and they have yet to tell us that,” said Christina Granfield of the group Friends of North Branch Park and Nature Preserve. “If it’s private, [the developer] could close it off anytime, and the public will not have any access to it.”
But 2nd Ward Ald. Brian Hopkins, who has been steering the proposal through the community hearing process, says residents have had ample time to review and critique the proposal, and says the final master plan represents the culmination of that process.
“This master plan fits right into that evolution,” Hopkins said. “We are good to go for Thursday. I am confident this document reflects nearly all the changes the community has asked for and demanded and shows a fairly exciting development. When this is built out, what an amazing addition to the city of Chicago this community will be.”
Hopkins also says the park space could be open to the public as soon as next year, and the Chicago Park District will program sports leagues and other events on the grounds, even though they will be privately owned. That disputes the contention from Sterling Bay that the Park District had declined to operate on their park.
“(The Park District) will program it and treat it as any other park district facility,” Hopkins said. “Soccer, basketball, other various sports.”
In fact, Hopkins says Sterling Bay could build out the park and then transfer it to Chicago Park District ownership.
Sterling Bay calls the project a “once in a lifetime opportunity to transform a former industrial site into a vibrant river front community.”
But at least one alderman says the deal amounts to an unprecedented public giveaway to a private developer, and that the total subsidies could amount to as much as $1.3 billion.
“I have developers calling me saying that they’ve never seen anything like this,” said Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd). “The economic windfall that Sterling Bay is getting is basically nothing that anyone else has ever seen.”
If the Plan Commission approves the plan, it will then go before the City Council’s Zoning Committee and then to the full City Council for a vote. Approval of the $800 million TIF will have to come in separate votes. Sterling Bay says it hopes to complete the project over the next 10 years.
Follow Paris Schutz on Twitter: @paschutz