City Council Approves Lincoln Yards, The 78

Lincoln Yards Protestors
Protesters block traffic on LaSalle Street as the Chicago City Council considers two controversial real estate projects. Linda Lutton / WBEZ
Lincoln Yards Protestors
Protesters block traffic on LaSalle Street as the Chicago City Council considers two controversial real estate projects. Linda Lutton / WBEZ

City Council Approves Lincoln Yards, The 78

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Updated at 6:15 p.m.

The Chicago City Council has approved taxpayer subsidies for two massive and controversial real estate developments.

Aldermen voted 31 to 14 in favor of tax increment financing (TIF) for The 78, an apartments and commercial space project planned between the South Loop and Chinatown. A short time later, they voted 32 to 13 for a TIF for Lincoln Yards, another mixed-use development along the Chicago River on the city’s North Side.

Developers were seeking TIF districts that will cost taxpayers around $2 billion for infrastructure improvements around the two projects.

The TIF plans advanced to the City Council after being approved Wednesday morning by the council’s Finance Committee. That panel’s action came as protesters were removed from the council chambers and continued to demonstrate outside, temporarily blocking traffic on LaSalle Street in the Loop.

For supporters, the projects symbolize the city’s transformation — from an industrial past to a modern future and tens of thousands of new jobs.

But to protesters like Amisha Patel, who heads Grassroots Collaborative, the TIFs mean Chicago is giving $2 billion in subsidies to developers she thinks would have developed the area anyway.

“We are creating brand-new, shiny neighborhoods in a city where there are so many neighborhoods crumbling and disinvested in,” Patel said. “This is not where our priorities should be. People say that trickle-down is gonna happen — the entire city will benefit. We know that’s not true because it’s never happened. Downtown development, megaprojects like this don’t trickle down. We need targeted investments in our neighborhoods and communities.”

The City Council votes come the morning after Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot released a statement signaling she would no longer advocate holding up Lincoln Yards and The 78.

She issued the statement late Tuesday after she said developers agreed to increase the involvement of minority- and women-owned enterprises. A vote by the Finance Committee was put off Monday after Lightfoot called for a delay and Mayor Rahm Emanuel acquiesced.

“On Monday it was very clear that the delay was so that the mayor and the mayor-elect could have an opportunity to discuss this matter,” Finance Committee Chairman Ald. Patrick O’Connor said Wednesday. “They discussed it. We’re at the point we’re at.”

“There are likely sufficient votes to advance these proposals,” Lightfoot’s statement said.

The incoming mayor said she met with Lincoln Yards and The 78 developers Tuesday, and they agreed to boost participation of minority- and women-owned firms in the projects by $80 million to $400 million overall. Ensuring construction and other jobs in the two developments go to minority and women-owned businesses — and Chicago residents — has been an ongoing concern.

“These changes represent a vital sign that my administration will be able to make progress toward an equitable and fair deal for our communities,” Lightfoot said. “There is much work to do in this regard.” She takes office next month.

The developments have been criticized by some activists concerned about the projects’ impacts on affordable housing, local business and schools. Others say taxpayer subsidies should not go to developers of high-end neighborhoods.

Those critics include six recently elected aldermen who were at the protests outside City Hall. Incoming 1st Ward Ald. Daniel LaSpata said these huge projects will hamstring new aldermen, who have to find money for pensions and other immediate needs.

“For the next 23 years, we’re going to be giving up billions of dollars in tax dollars when we know across this city we have needs in our schools, in our neighborhoods, in our parks. It’s irresponsible,” he said.

But after the vote, Brian Hopkins, the alderman of the area where Lincoln Yards will be built, said now that the deal has passed, the developer can break ground. Hopkins is pushing for them to start with a park on the site. 

“As soon as the weather allows, we want to get the park going,” Hopkins said. “I’d like to see kids playing there by the end of the summer.”

WBEZ’s Becky Vevea and Linda Lutton contributed reporting for this story.