Plan to give Landmark billions for One Central project needs more scrutiny: state lawmakers

South Side officials say they were kept in the dark as the Legislature advanced the plan to possibly provide state funding for the megaproject

Jun.June 04, 2019 04:00 PM
From left: J.B. Pritzker, Bob Dunn, Kam Buckner, and a rendering of the One Central megadevelopment (Credit: Glessner House)

From left: J.B. Pritzker, Bob Dunn, Kam Buckner, and a rendering of the One Central megadevelopment (Credit: Glessner House)

A group of South Side lawmakers is seeking a seat at the table if the state negotiates a financing deal for Landmark Development’s One Central transit hub, saying community concerns must be addressed before the state approves funding.

Four state legislators who represent the area where Landmark is proposing the One Central mega-development sent a letter to Pritzker Friday, complaining they were iced out of the negotiations over how to subsidize Landmark’s proposed transit center.

“As representatives of this district, we should have been notified about a project that will affect thousands of our residents,” the letter reads. “We believe that residents should have a seat at the table going forward.”

The Illinois General Assembly over the weekend approved a state spending package that included a provision authorizing Prtizker’s administration to negotiate a public-private partnership for Landmark’s proposed $3.8 billion transit hub. The bill does not require the Legislature to ratify any future deal with the developer.

Landmark President Bob Dunn sought the partnership as a means of kickstarting the One Central development. His proposal called for the state to reimburse Landmark for the cost of the transit hub over 20 years before it is handed over to the state.

An outline of that deal was included in the state spending package, although no official terms have been agreed to, the governor’s office said. The bill approved over the weekend instead allows the administration to negotiate a deal if the development moves forward.

State Rep. Kam Buckner said he and other Near South Side representatives weren’t made aware of the One Central language included in the spending bill until the 11th hour. Buckner joined Sen. Mattie Hunter, Sen. Robert Peters and Rep. Lamont Robinson in asking the governor to include the delegation in future One Central talks.

“We wanted to be on the record saying we need to be engaged in this process,” Buckner said.

Landmark’s One Central development would be anchored by the massive transit center. Initial plans call for as many as a dozen high rises to be built on top of the transit hub, just west of Lake Shore Drive near Soldier Field.

The development would rise next to dozens of existing South Loop high rises, and 1,000 residents of those buildings signed a petition against One Central, according to the lawmakers. Those voices should be heard when it comes time to negotiate a deal with Landmark, Buckner said.

Though the bill passed Saturday gives his administration the power to negotiate with Landmark, Pritzker would not sign off on a fundraising project without engaging with local elected officials and community leaders, a spokesperson said. Pritzker also will work to address the lawmakers’ concerns that minority contractors and local labor be included in the project, his spokesperson said.

Pritzker told the Crain’s editorial board Monday the project would not even get to the negotiating table without a robust community approval process. No part of One Central has been approved by the city or state, as the development firm works to secure potential federal funding for the project.

“There’s nothing that’s going to happen here without an awful lot of input from various levels of government,” Pritzker saidl.

Landmark’s Dunn has said the firm fully intends a robust community approval process as it seeks to move the project forward. The firm already held one community meeting, where initial plans for the project were announced.

“We agree with the legislators that broad community input is essential,” Dunn said in a statement. “Now we will look forward to gathering the input of local residents, civic and community stakeholders, and leaders across the city who will help inform a master plan for One Central, which will be submitted for public review and vetting.”

Buckner said he is not against One Central or the proposal to have the state help finance the transit hub. Rather, he just wants to make sure his residents can weigh in on any future deal to provide state funding for it.

“People are attracted to the idea of the state owning it and using revenue to pay down things like the pension debt,” he said. “If the numbers add up, I would be all for it.”

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