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How the $5B Lincoln Yards megaproject will transform Chicago’s North Branch

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Developers want to bring 5,000 homes, 23,000 jobs, and 800-foot skyscrapers to the sprawling riverfront site


After years of land acquisitions and behind-the-scenes planning, Chicago-based developer Sterling Bay officially took the wraps off its massive Lincoln Yards megaproject at a public presentation Wednesday night. The $5 billion mixed-use plan aims for nothing short of a complete transformation of nearly 53 acres of vacant land flanking both banks of the Chicago River’s North Branch Industrial Corridor.

“Very rarely do you get an opportunity to have a blank slate,” Sterling Bay’s managing principal Andy Gloor said of the site and its prime location between the Lincoln Park and Bucktown neighborhoods. “A lot of times when you have a piece of land like this, you are pioneering a new area. This is very unique.”

With such a large canvas at its disposal, Sterling Bay is proposing an equally large project with some staggering numbers: 12 million square feet worth of buildings, 5,000 residential units, 23,000 on-site jobs, and at least 6,200 parking spaces.

Average building height will be roughly 300 feet, according to Sterling Bay’s Erin Lavin Cabonargi. A handful of “icon buildings,” however, could reach as high as 700 to 800 feet—a statement that drew gasps and nervous murmurs from many local residents in attendance.

The developer hired Chicago architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) and Boston-based CBT to come up with a masterplan for the riverfront megaproject. Landscape design comes from James Corner Field Operations—the group behind New York’s High Line and Navy Pier’s revamped promenade.

While the buildings shown in the renderings are likely to change as potential end users (perhaps even Amazon) are lined up, the plan exhibits many traits identified in the city’s North Branch Framework Plan. The structures are organized around multiple public green spaces, feature active streetscapes, and step downward toward the river for better physical and visual access to the water.


To manage the nearly 53-acre site, the developer has divided Lincoln Yards into two pieces, each with a separate Planned Development application. Occupying the site of the former Finkl steel plant, the 29-acre Lincoln Yards “North” parcel will include the majority of the project’s commercial and residential buildings.

The 23-acre Lincoln Yards South, located at the site of the city’s old Fleet and Facility Management facility, will be anchored by more office space, retail, a Live Nation entertainment complex, and a 20,000-seat United Soccer League stadium. The two pieces are both organized around an extension of Dominick Street from Armitage to Throop and will be linked by a new north-south bridge.

Lincoln Yard North.
Lincoln Yards South.

Dominick Street is one of many roadway improvements included in the Lincoln Yards proposal aimed at alleviating the area’s already very poor traffic conditions. The company hopes to realign Kingsbury Street into a continuous through route and is exploring a new east-west bridge at Armitage as a future solution should the Ozinga Concrete plant parcel become available. Roughly 3.5 acres will be dedicated to new roadways.

Beyond automobile connectivity, the development calls for new pedestrian pathways, an extension of the 606 trail, three water taxi stops, and near term improvements to the existing Clybourn Metra platform. Long-term goals include the city’s plan for a new transitway along Kingsbury and a new “multimodal” Metra station connecting cyclists, rail commuters, CTA buses, and private shuttles.


The plan also sets aside about 13.5 acres for new park space, plazas, and riverwalks. Renderings show a new dog park and sledding hill as well as recreational fields. The exact programming of the sports facilities is still being finalized, and some residents have expressed doubts about Lincoln Yards’s ability to serve the expected influx of residents and their children.

The green space issue has even prompted a push from three local aldermen to create a new city park on a nearby parcel. Known as the North Branch River Park and Preserve, the project was not discussed at the Lincoln Yards meeting and will require additional funding.

If approved, the development will be built in phases, with the first tranche expected to focus primarily on new office space. By Sterling Bay’s estimates, it could take approximately 10 years to complete.

For those unable to attend Wednesday’s meeting, Alderman Hopkins streamed the presentation in its entirety on Facebook. A copy of Sterling Bay’s slide deck as well as a resident feedback form can be found on the alderman’s website.

Lincoln Yards Community Meeting, July 18th, 2018

Posted by Alderman Brian Hopkins on Wednesday, July 18, 2018