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Lincoln Yards developer presents new details to skeptical residents

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Neighbors asked about open space, density and transit

The Great Lawn
Sterling Bay

The second community meeting about the Lincoln Yards development, hosted by the developer Sterling Bay and 2nd Ward Alderman Brian Hopkins, packed hundreds of seats and even spilled out into the hallway on the third floor of Park Community Church Near North on Thursday night.

Sterling Bay’s presentation focused on three things: providing details on building heights and layout, showcasing the next-level park design, and highlighting the street, bridge and other infrastructure improvements.

Often at community meetings those who are against a project far outnumber those in support of it, which isn’t necessarily representative. While lots of people were skeptical of the development, there were people in attendance who support Sterling Bay’s plans and complimented the developer’s work in transforming the West Loop.

This meeting was about showing the Lincoln Yards master plan, though many people came with questions the tax increment-financing (TIF) district, which is a controversial tool used by the city to fund infrastructure. At this point, a TIF district has not been created but it’s something the officials are considering.

The Cortland/Chicago River TIF District was proposed as part of the North Branch Framework Plan which allows for the industrial land to be rezoned and used for other types of development.

Another demand from attendees was for Sterling Bay to create a true public park, instead of a privately owned, publicly accessibly park within the development. Keating Crown, principal and senior management at Sterling Bay, said that he was in support of the Park District owning the park.

Earlier the team has presented the Park District with a plan where the city would own the park and Sterling Bay would maintain the cost and manage it in perpetuity. However, the city turned down the deal, likely because the Park District is struggling to financially manage what it operates now, Keating said. The Park District did not immediately respond to a request for comment this.

Open space and parks

While much of the meeting was spent addressing concerns from attendees, the team did reveal that the design for the green space would be inspired by the site’s industrial history. Sarah Weidner Astheimer, a principal at the project’s landscape architecture firm Field Operations, presented the vision for the playground, promenades, seasonal gardens, recreation fields and more.

The landscape design team has already surveyed the site and found industrial artifacts that have inspired the way the open space will look. Giant industrial ladles, originally used as vessels for molten metals, will be planters for trees. Designs on the pavement that mimic train tracks will flow along The Slipway path near the river. Curvy, tubular slides at the Foundry Playground mimic what could have actually been made at a former foundry, or metal factory. A furnace garden, with large fire pits, hints again at the area’s industrial past.

The northern section of the park will be filled with rolling hills, winding pathways, lots of trees, playgrounds and parks, and the Great Lawn which overlooks the Chicago River. Crossing over into the southern portion, there will be more athletic fields and the 20,000-seat soccer stadium.

The owners of the Hideout, a beloved live music space, along with other indie music venues, have banded together to ask for more transparency regarding the entertainment district that will be just four blocks from their establishment. Supporters of the city’s music scene showed up in full support of the new coalition CIVL, which is asking Sterling Bay for a seat at the table and to slow down the development process which will affect their industry.

Sterling Bay
Sterling Bay

Building plans and height reductions

Sterling Bay also reworked the building heights cutting about a total of 100 stories from its shorter buildings and chopping its tallest tower from 806 feet to 650 feet and moving it much farther away from the park location.

Although, at first those changes were lost on many residents who couldn’t read the tiny numbers on the projection screen. Several people also complained during the open forum that they didn’t have time to digest the new information presented and ask proper questions since Sterling Bay didn’t release the presentation ahead of time making it harder on residents trying to keep up with the massive development.

Sterling Bay
Sterling Bay

While the building heights were shortened, the density remains similar and when you compare proposals the buildings do look wider. However, Scott Duncan from SOM addressed this saying the designers paid special attention to the space between the buildings.

SOM’s design references other low-rise cities rediscovering industrial river fronts such as Hamburg, Germany and Copenhagen, Denmark. That means considering how buildings can engage the environment, stitch together neighborhoods and feel porous rather than barricading.

The first buildings to break ground will be three right next to Sterling Bay’s recently completed headquarters for C.H. Robinson. The first part of this would involve building out Dominick Street which connects the buildings and the river. The street would also have a pedestrian and bike pathway, Duncan said.

Sterling Bay

“Why three buildings? It’s important to create a destination. At this point putting a single building wouldn’t achieve anything,” Duncan said.

The buildings will have what SOM is calling “21st century lofts” which are modern, open workspaces with large windows and a smooth cave-like ceiling. Architects focused on making the building as efficient as possible by reducing building materials, shrinking the carbon footprint, creating a bird-friendly design, and adding solar responsive facades.

It was also important to the design team to make sure the buildings had a “porch-like quality” at the riverfront, so that neighbors and occupants both felt welcome to use the ground-floor restaurants and shops. SOM also designed a sculptural parking garage for the buildings that can later be converted into offices or shops if the world becomes less car-centric.

Sterling Bay
Sterling Bay

Traffic and infrastructure

Sterling Bay spent a lot of time going over the infrastructure improvements that need to happen for Lincoln Yards to avoid becoming a dreadful, congested traffic nightmare.

The specifics of Sterling Bay’s infrastructure plan entails extending Dominick Street over the river to North Avenue, connecting Southport Avenue to Kingsbury Street and extending Armitage Avenue across the river. Connections for bikers and pedestrians would include the Concord Pedestrian Bridge, the 606 extension and pathways on all bridges in the area. It also calls for more north-south and east-west connections, simpler intersections, wider streets and safer crosswalks.

The developer also funded a traffic study to find solutions for the congestion at the Armitage-Ashland-Elston intersection, which the city is now reviewing. CDOT will also do its own engineering studies. According the the presentation, it generally recommended creating more parking, making streets more walkable, and improving alternative modes of transportation.

The plan for public transportation includes a new Metra stop and other improvements, shuttles to CTA stations, and three water taxi stops. One woman advocated for a Clybourn bus during the open forum while asking the alderman and Sterling Bay to do a better job of addressing the needs of people who use public transportation which is already near capacity.

If you missed the community meeting, either in July or the one on Thursday, you can find the presentations on the Lincoln Yards website.