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Local Club Owners Still Waiting On Sterling Bay To Explain Lincoln Yards Plan

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It seems like a victory.

The Chicago Independent Venue League, formed last year by club owners around Sterling Bay’s proposed Lincoln Yards project, had loudly voiced concerns that a massive entertainment complex run by events promoter Live Nation could harm the local music scene. Listening to that outcry, Second Ward Alderman Brian Hopkins forced Sterling Bay to do away with the large Live Nation entertainment district and replace it with a series of smaller venues. 

But the local club owners aren’t satisfied yet.

Katie Tuten and Bruce Finkelman
Katie Tuten and Bruce Finkelman in front of The Hideout at 1354 West Wabansia.

“There has never been a clear understanding about what Sterling Bay is planning,” club owner Bruce Finkelman said.

Finkelman, who owns Promontory, Thalia Hall and the Empty Bottle, joined up last year with other club owners, including Katie Tuten, owner of the Hideout, a historic club just west of Lincoln Yards, to form the Chicago Independent Venue League.  

The group wanted more open conversations with the development team about how the Live Nation concert complex would operate, and how it could affect local music culture, a culture Sterling Bay officials have praised as something that helps make the surrounding neighborhoods appealing.

CIVL attracted a good deal of media attention, and has already made an impact on the $5B proposal. Hopkins, who represents the area, last week exercised his power as a City Council member — his “aldermanic privilege” — to cancel the Live Nation complex, along with a proposed 20,000-seat soccer stadium.   

But the entertainment plans for Lincoln Yards are still vague, and Sterling Bay hasn’t done much talking, so Hopkins’ move does not end the controversy, the club owners said.

They echo the concerns of many community residents, who ask why, with so many unanswered questions, the proposal is still on the Jan. 24 agenda of the Chicago Plan Commission.

“This is such a huge endeavor, it’s not just going to affect our businesses, but the entire city, and even though we’ve made some steps in the right direction, we’re still in the dark without a flashlight,” Tuten said.  

It has not been released whether Live Nation will still play a role. Hopkins, who also barred the promoter from having an ownership stake in the on-site entertainment, was careful to point out that he had no legal authority to stop Sterling Bay from bringing Live Nation on board to operate the smaller, more dispersed venues he called for in a revised plan.  

Sterling Bay community meeting
The Sterling Bay development team faced a full house at a Nov. 29 community meeting.

Both Finkelman and Tuten said Live Nation’s participation is not a deal breaker.

“Most of us have relationships with Live Nation and do business with them all the time,” Finkelman said.

What is more important to gain community support is that information start flowing from both Sterling Bay and city officials, he said.

“It’s time for someone to figure out what this is, and present it to the public.”

A Sterling Bay spokesperson said the company would release an updated plan before the Plan Commission meeting.

Along with giving the community more information, Tuten, who said she is not opposed to development, hopes Sterling Bay taps into the club owners’ expertise as it formulates new plans.

“Between all of us we have about 150 years of experience, and we could help,” she said.

At a massive community meeting on Lincoln Yards in November, Sterling Bay Managing Principal Andy Gloor told the crowd that company officials had met with the Hideout’s owners, but Tuten said there was just one meeting, with no real results. 

If there is one certainty about Sterling Bay’s plans for this former manufacturing zone, sandwiched between the relatively quiet residential neighborhoods of Lincoln Park and Bucktown, it’s that it will eventually bring in thousands of new residents and office workers.

Tuten doesn’t worry much that an influx of new people from Lincoln Yards will alter her club’s character.

She has seen a lot of change over the years. She took over what had been a rundown structure on an industrial side street 24 years ago, and transformed it into an eclectic music club, one that also hosts a late summer festival that attracts thousands, plus community and political events and a nationally televised talk show.  

“We have very creative people at the Hideout, and we can adapt to change.”