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Emanuel Agrees To Lightfoot's Call To Delay TIF Votes On Lincoln Yards And The 78

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Chicago’s City Council rarely delivers surprises, but it managed to do just that on Monday. After spending months shepherding the proposals for two vast new mixed-use developments through the approval process, aldermen on the Finance Committee agreed to delay votes on whether to approve Tax Increment Financing districts for Sterling Bay’s Lincoln Yards and Related Midwest’s The 78.

Alderman-Elect Byron Sigcho-Lopez
25th Ward Alderman Byron Sigcho-Lopez addressing a City Hall press conference earlier this year.

The unusual move came after Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot issued a statement Sunday night calling for a delay, and this may signal that the recent elections mean the council may no longer perform its traditional role of rubber-stamp.   

“From day one, I have raised concerns about these deals and the deeply flawed process that has led us to this moment,” Lightfoot said.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel supported Lightfoot’s request, and said the incoming mayor should have a say on both developments.

After listening to hours of testimony Monday from opponents and supporters, including many representatives of construction contractors that hope to work on the projects, Finance Committee Chair and 40th Ward Alderman Pat O’Connor, who lost his re-election bid last week to a progressive reformer, said he was delaying a final vote, prompting raucous cheers from some spectators.

But the delay is only for 48 hours, and the committee could approve the TIF districts, expected to generate about $2B in reimbursements for the developers, when it meets on Wednesday.

Amisha Patel, executive director of Grassroots Collaborative, an advocacy group that fought the projects’ approval, said she appreciated both Lightfoot’s call for a delay, and Emanuel’s consent, but she remains unsatisfied.

“Forty-eight hours is not a meaningful delay for projects that will impact the city for decades to come. The subsidizing of luxury developments is not the right priority for Chicago. The officials that should decide what the right priorities for Chicago will be sworn in in May and no votes should be happening around these projects until that time.”

The 78's Crescent Park.
The 78's Crescent Park looking north with contributions by architect ASGG

Second Ward Alderman Brian Hopkins, whose ward includes Lincoln Yards, reacted angrily to calls for delay, and said the project was vetted thoroughly.

“From the time it was introduced until today, there were numerous changes in it that have taken place in the transparent light of day,” he told WGN-Radio’s Roe Conn Monday.

Hopkins, who secured several significant changes to Sterling Bay’s plan, including the cancellation of a 20,000-seat soccer stadium, also issued a dire warning about the site if there are additional delays.

“It’s going to be a hole in the ground for the next 20 years, generating no money and no benefits to anyone.”

Lightfoot has not yet called for another delay, but said there is a lot of work to do before municipal leaders can understand how these projects will impact the surrounding neighborhoods and the city budget.

Although developers and city planning officials have discussed both Lincoln Yards and The 78 at community meetings over the past eight or nine months, detailed financial documents, which run to 600 pages, were only recently made available, she said Tuesday on WBEZ’s "The Morning Shift."

“I don’t think any aldermen should be voting on something they haven’t read.”

Lightfoot and her transition team plan to spend much of Wednesday studying these documents and speaking with the development teams.

She said she will focus on better understanding the developers’ proposals for on-site affordable housing, and how they will employ minority- and women-owned businesses.  

If the City Council ends up giving a final approval to either site before she takes the oath of office in May, Lightfoot said that will not end the matter.

“We are definitely going to have the ability to shape it after May 20.”

When WBEZ's Jen White asked how, Lightfoot gave a succinct answer.

“You always have the power of the purse.”