TIFs for Lincoln Yards, The 78 appear headed for approval after Monday fake-out

The City Council’s Finance Committee plans to reconvene Wednesday so it can vote on the $2.4B proposals

From left: Alderman Brian Hopkins, and Alderman Pat O'Connor with a rendering of The 78 (Credit: Facebook)
From left: Alderman Brian Hopkins, and Alderman Pat O'Connor with a rendering of The 78 (Credit: Facebook)

The City Council is poised to create new tax increment financing districts on Wednesday for Lincoln Yards and The 78, despite Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s earlier call for the votes to be delayed until after Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot takes office next month.

Together, the two new districts would generate as much $2.4 billion for public infrastructure work around the two megadevelopments.

The City Council’s Finance Committee, currently chaired by outgoing Alderman Pat O’Connor (40th), had been expected Monday to advance proposals to create the new districts to the full council for a final stamp on Wednesday. But after Lightfoot and Emanuel called on aldermen to pause the vote, O’Connor agreed to put the matter on ice.

But the pause appears to be only temporary. O’Connor said he would re-convene his committee Wednesday morning, and supporters say they have enough votes to approve the districts. Aldermen would stick around for the City Council meeting scheduled immediately afterward, when the measures would again likely have enough votes to pass.

The new TIF districts represent the last major legislative hurdle for the two projects, which both already received planning and zoning approval from the city. [ttps://therealdeal.com/chicago/2019/03/07/sterling-bays-lincoln-yards-wins-key-city-approval-after-heated-zoning-committee-hearing/] Before Monday’s about face, Emanuel had urged the council to wrap up the whole approval process before his successor takes office on May 20.

On Sunday night, Lightfoot issued a statement asking aldermen to hold off on approving the new TIF districts, citing a “deeply flawed process that has led us to this moment.” Emanuel acquiesced Monday morning, writing in a statement he “made it very clear to the mayor-elect that I would not move forward on these projects if she wanted to delay the process.”

But Alderman Brian Hopkins (2nd), whose ward includes the 55-acre Lincoln Yards site, rebuffed both on Monday, saying Lightfoot “doesn’t sit on the finance committee.”

“I know she’s thrown some shade at the process, but she hasn’t given us any specifics,” Hopkins said. “She says there are unanswered questions, but she hasn’t told us what those questions are.”

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Hopkins has been a fierce defender of Sterling Bay’s proposal since the developer won his support in January. The alderman said Monday he is confident both the finance committee and full council would pass the TIF measures, if given the chance.

“Every single one of [the aldermen], including the most ardent opponents, have been adequately briefed on this project,” Hopkins said. “Some of them have determined that it’s not worthy of their support, but a majority have determined that it is worthy of their support, and that’s why we’re having this vote.”

Alderman Scott Waguespack (32nd), a longtime critic of the Lincoln Yards proposal whose ward borders Sterling Bay’s property, predicted the TIF measures would both pass on Wednesday. An early supporter of Lightfoot’s campaign, Waguespack said he hopes to take over as chairman of the finance committee after May.

“I think most alderman have gotten” on board with the new districts, Waguespack said. “I’m not sure why, because you’ve got a new mayor who should be allowed to vet it, and new aldermen coming in who should be allowed to vet it.”

Waguespack called the new TIF districts a “bad deal for taxpayers,” since they would prevent tax dollars from flowing into the city’s general operating fund until they expire in 2042.

But Hopkins said any further delay in the approval process could risk sending the wrong message to investors who are looking to build and launch businesses in Chicago. He held up Amazon’s withdrawal from its planned Long Island City campus as a caution to his colleagues.

“New York City walked away from Amazon and said ‘No thank you, we don’t want those jobs,’ and there’s a backlash to that today,” Hopkins said. “There’s an outcry when people realize what folly that is. I won’t let that happen here.”

A spokesperson for Lightfoot did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday, and a spokesperson for Emanuel declined comment.