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Community Members Ask Sterling Bay: 'What's The Rush?'

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In the wake of Second Ward Alderman Brian Hopkins' bombshell announcement last week withdrawing support for a proposal to create a 20,000-seat soccer stadium at the controversial Lincoln Yards site, developer Sterling Bay has scrambled to make adjustments before a key meeting of the Chicago Plan Commission next Thursday. 

Jim Gramata
Sheffield Neighborhood Association President Jim Gramata

Hopkins also refused to support the plan for a massive entertainment complex run by Live Nation, a Beverly Hills-based events promoter whose plan was supported by Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Hopkins said he preferred a series of smaller venues in which Live Nation would have no ownership stake.  

Both features were fundamental building blocks in Sterling Bay's $5B vision of how it would transform the former site of Finkl Steel, sandwiched between the residential neighborhoods of Lincoln Park and Bucktown, into a vibrant mixed-use community with riverfront parks and towers reaching 650 feet. 

Sterling Bay officials put out new renderings and a public statement this week, replacing the stadium and Live Nation facility with green space and smaller entertainment venues, but local residents remain dissatisfied with the lack of details, and worry the proposal will secure city approval before they have a chance to understand how it will transform their communities.

Hopkins has said he asked for changes to Lincoln Yards after reading over constituent surveys that expressed strong disapproval of the stadium and entertainment complex plans. 

Allan Mellis lives on the 1100 block of Montana Street in the Wrightwood area near Lincoln Park, and attended several community meetings last year with Hopkins and Sterling Bay. He still worries the new development will bring even more traffic congestion to the area, a top concern in Hopkins' surveys, and believes residents are entitled to more information.  

The Sterling Bay team completed a traffic study, but it was not made public, a fact that elicited a lot of grumbling and boos at a community meeting in November attended by nearly 1,000 people.

Mellis made it clear he does not oppose Sterling Bay or the general idea of redeveloping the former Finkl site.

"If anyone is going to develop the land, I'd like it to be Sterling Bay, but what's the rush?"

Sterling Bay's Lincoln Yards
Sterling Bay's vision of Lincoln Yards

Sterling Bay has not given out much information since Hopkins’ announcement last week. The company declined Bisnow’s interview request, but a spokesperson did say an updated plan will be released to the public in advance of the Plan Commission meeting.

Changes that have been released in the past week include nearly 3 additional acres of park space, almost doubling the park space in the development’s southern section and replacing the entertainment district with a dispersed group of smaller venues.

Hopkins has called these proposals a good start, but has not publicly indicated whether he supports allowing a new master plan to go before the Plan Commission.

Sheffield Neighborhood Association President Jim Gramata is eager to see whatever plan Sterling Bay comes up with in the next week. 

"The community was promised transparency, but the images that we've seen so far are quite lacking in detail, and none can truly be called a master plan," he said. 

Like Mellis, Gramata does not oppose redeveloping the site. He even accepts the idea that the neighborhoods could soon see 650-foot towers, the tallest buildings for miles around, as that level of density is called for in the city's framework for the site, something not understood by many local residents, he said.

"This is an exciting development, so we're not just trying to slow things down, it's about properly reviewing and understanding a massive proposal," he said. 

Gramata's neighborhood group sent out its own community survey, and got back 833 responses. Most of the concerns were about possible congestion, how much open space would be included and how all of the phases, including the construction of any towers and promised infrastructure improvements, would be sequenced.

One of his chief concerns is that politics will push this plan over the finish line before the community gets its chance to be heard.

"There is a mayor leaving office, and this is a massive development that he says he wants approved before he leaves," he said.

"The core of our community does want to see this redevelopment succeed, but we're not going to give Sterling Bay a rubber stamp."