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This could be the year of the megadevelopment for Chicago, altering the skyline forever

Ryan Ori, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Business News

On Tuesday, Ald. Brian Hopkins made the bombshell announcement that he's forcing Sterling Bay to remove plans for the stadium, where a United Soccer League team owned by Cubs owner Tom Ricketts was supposed to play, and several live entertainment venues that Live Nation Entertainment was to run. Hopkins said he rejected those aspects of Sterling Bay's plan because of neighbors' concerns about traffic congestion.

Hopkins wants the stadium to be replaced by open recreational space and the entertainment district to be split into restaurants, theaters and other smaller venues.

Before Sterling Bay can break ground on its $5 billion to $6 billion vision for the vacant land between North and Webster avenues, the developer also will need to allay concerns about the project's impact on nearby businesses, schools, public transportation, roads and bridges. Other remaining points of potential conflict include: the amount of park space Sterling Bay will provide on the site; heights of the tallest buildings, which could rise more than 50 stories; and the proposed use of public funds to create new infrastructure in an already traffic-choked area of the city.

The city is considering creating $800 million in tax increment financing that could be used to help fund a relocated Metra station, new roads and bridges and other infrastructure in and around Lincoln Yards. City officials have argued that the financing -- in which Sterling Bay would pay for infrastructure up front, as it's built in phases, and be reimbursed later -- offers a way to build much-needed improvements the city otherwise can't afford.

Hopkins said he's pushing the city to include the creation of a 24-acre, $200 million public park along the river near Lincoln Yards -- a project also championed by Aldermen Michele Smith and Scott Waguespack, who represent nearby wards -- as part of any public funding package.

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Related Midwest was thinking big when it drew up plans for its riverside site connecting the South Loop and Chinatown, and when it named the development -- which the developer says will be large enough to become Chicago's 78th community area.

The 62-acre site gained national attention after the Tribune reported that Amazon officials made a second visit there in August, as the company considered sites for what it called HQ2. It was one of the few sites reported to receive a follow-up visit from Amazon.

Although Chicago lost out on HQ2 -- which ultimately was split into large offices in New York and Arlington, Va., rather than an actual second headquarters -- Related Midwest gained a seal of approval of sorts. Site selection experts predict other corporations will use Amazon's already vetted list of potential cities and sites for their own office searches.

Related Midwest is carrying on with plans to build 13 million square feet of office, residential, hotel, retail, restaurant and entertainment space along a half-mile of the Chicago River south of the Loop. The estimated cost is $7 billion. The developer plans to set aside about 3 acres of the site for the planned University of Illinois-led Discovery Partners Institute innovation center.

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