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Controversial Lincoln Yards TIF district clears key city commission

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The $900 million district will fund infrastructure improvements in and around the megadevelopment

Sterling Bay

At a heated public hearing on Tuesday, Chicago’s Community Development Commission voted in favor of a new $900 million tax increment financing (TIF) district to support the massive $6 billion Lincoln Yards megadevelopment.

If fully approved, the 168-acre Cortland/Chicago River TIF district would reimburse developer Sterling Bay for $490 million of infrastructure improvements including new roadways, bridges over the Chicago River, an extension of the 606 trail, and a realignment of the Armitage-Ashland-Elston intersection.

“We need traffic and transit improvements in the neighborhood I represent today,” argued 2nd Ward Alderman Hopkins at the meeting, reported the Chicago Sun-Times. “We need three new bridges over the Chicago River to accommodate the existing traffic conditions today. We can’t afford another delay.”

Other elected officials were unconvinced. Aldermen Michele Smith and Scott Waguespack, representing the neighboring 43rd and 32nd wards, held a press conference ahead of Tuesday’s meeting and asked the commissioners to slow down what they believe has been a rushed approval process.

The aldermen demanded additional scrutiny of Sterling Bay’s property tax assessments—figures central to the calculus of the TIF. They asked for time for Cook County assessor Fritz Kaegi to review the developer’s past assessments given its history with Klafter & Burke, the company of under-federal-investigation alderman Edward Burke.

Smith and Waguespack even went so far as to file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to get “all the facts before the City hands a billion in taxpayer dollars over to a developer.”

Following the CDC’s approval on Tuesday, the Cortland/Chicago River TIF will head to Chicago Plan Commission for a vote on Thursday. The new district will also require the OK of the Finance Committee and full City Council.

A Chicago City Council vote with also determine the fate of pending zoning changes needed to make Lincoln Yards a reality. While about a dozen Chicago alderman said they will vote against the project, a majority of the city’s 50 representatives will be needed to defeat the measure.

As currently proposed, Lincoln Yards will redevelop 55 acres of formerly industrial riverfront land into 15 million square feet of mixed-use buildings, some rising more than 600 feet high. Once fully built-out, the mixed-use project will be home to 6,000 residential units and as many as 24,000 jobs.

Chicago Department of Planning and Development