The Real Deal Chicago

Sterling Bay drops Lincoln Yards stadium plans at Hopkins’ urging

The North Side alderman said Sterling Bay must build park space where the soccer stadium was planned
By Alex Nitkin | January 08, 2019 10:46AM

Alderman Brian Hopkins (2nd) and a rendering of the Lincoln Yards stadium (Credit: Facebook)

UPDATE, Jan. 8, 12:10 p.m.: Sterling Bay is dropping its proposal to build a 20,000-seat soccer stadium in the 54-acre Lincoln Yards development and will break up a planned “entertainment district” that would have given music promoter Live Nation the exclusive right to manage a handful of concert venues on the site.

A company spokesperson made the announcement minutes after Alderman Brian Hopkins (2nd) wrote in an email to constituents Tuesday morning that he would not approve Sterling Bay’s plans for the $5 billion development until it dropped the stadium and entertainment district proposals.

On Monday, Hopkins released the results of a poll showing 53 percent of his constituents opposed the stadium plan, compared to just 23 percent who supported it. Last year, the alderman prevented the City Council from reviewing the Chicago-based developer’s site applications until they earned his personal approval.

The alderman has defended the City Council’s controversial adherence to “aldermanic prerogative,” which gives each council member de facto veto power over any development proposed inside his or her ward.

Sterling Bay is expected to submit a new “master site plan” to city officials that includes “open and recreational park space” where the stadium was planned, as well as scattered “restaurants, theaters and smaller venues” to replace the cluster of concert venues the developer had planned in conjunction with Live Nation, Hopkins wrote in the statement.

The alderman and his constituents “have been very clear” in their opposition to a new stadium, Sterling Bay spokesperson Sarah Hamilton wrote in a statement Tuesday morning.

“We want to say: we heard you loud and clear,” Hamilton wrote. “We are very excited about Lincoln Yards and updating the master site plan to reflect the changes.”

Sterling Bay is also amending its plan to allow car travel along its planned Concord/Wisconsin pedestrian bridge over the river, Hamilton added, opening five “viable routes” across the river, she added.

In an interview Tuesday, Hopkins said he has also asked Sterling Bay to explore opening up its planned Armitage Avenue pedestrian bridge to allow auto traffic.

During public meetings hosted by Sterling Bay in July and November, neighbors bemoaned the stadium proposal’s potential to clog surrounding roadways with thousands of fans and concertgoers, and many demanded the Chicago Park District commission a new park along the east bank of the river.

Hopkins said in an interview Tuesday rejecting the stadium was “one of the easiest decisions” he’s made on Lincoln Yards, adding that public opposition to the sports venue has only grown since Sterling Bay unveiled it last summer.

“People were envisioning 20,000 people arriving and leaving every day, and thinking about the massive traffic jams that would bring,” Hopkins told The Real Deal. “Anyone who goes to live near Wrigley Field comes to expect that, but this would be imposing something brand new on a neighborhood that wasn’t prepared to accept it.”

Sterling Bay had intended the stadium, which was planned for the south half of the project site along the Chicago River, to host a United Soccer League expansion team that would be owned by Chicago Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts.

Hopkins also said he rejected Sterling Bay’s Live Nation deal in response to objections aired by the Chicago Independent Venue League, a coalition of bar and nightclub owners that formed in November to oppose the deal.

Sterling Bay principals announced during the November meeting they would reduce the heights of their tallest buildings, a tweak Hopkins called “a step in the right direction.” But the buildings need to be further scaled down in order to pass muster, he said Tuesday.

The alderman also said he has not yet decided whether he will move to delay the creation of a 168-acre tax increment financing to fund infrastructure projects around the site, as the venue owners and other community groups have demanded. The next public hearing on the proposal is scheduled for next month.

But Hopkins did write in his statement that city transportation officials will expedite their plan to overhaul the intersection of Damen, Elston and Fullerton avenues near the Lincoln Yards area, suggesting that the city should be able to use the controversial public financing mechanism to see the project through. Hopkins wrote the intersection overhaul “is projected to mirror the remarkable success” of two other similar projects that were “paid for with TIF allocations.”

“Both those congestion relief projects are universally embraced today, and no one complained that TIF money was applied to them,” Hopkins said. “The same situation applies here — I don’t see how anyone can object to public dollars being spent on a public good.”

This story has been updated to include Sterling Bay’s statement and an interview with Hopkins.