Local developer Sterling Bay hired the author of a report declaring its $6 billion Lincoln Yards megadevelopment met the requirements for $1.3 billion in TIF funding, a move that’s already drawn much scrutiny.
The author, Johnson Research Group president Ann Moroney, was introduced at a November 2018 public meeting as the “city’s TIF consultant” and claimed to have done the 36-page report “on behalf of the city.” But Moroney was actually selected and paid for by Sterling Bay, plus retained by a subsidiary to lobby for the agreement, according to the Tribune.
Maryam Judar, the executive director of the Citizen Advocacy Center, told the Tribune that it’s an obvious conflict of interest. Moroney disagreed, arguing that the arrangement did not diminish her objectivity.
It’s not uncommon for developers to hire a consultant when they propose a project in which it seeks TIF financing in Chicago and other cities. However, Mayor Lori Lightfoot felt it was problematic and directed city officials to independently hire consultants without feedback or input from developers.
Lincoln Yards opponent Ald. Michele Smith (43rd Ward) said she was unaware that the consultant was hired by Sterling Bay and said its portrayal as the city’s report is “misleading.”
A Sterling Bay spokesperson said the developer followed the city’s requirements throughout the approval process.
The Tribune previously determined the megadevelopment’s site barely met the minimum legal requirement to obtain the taxpayer subsidy and wouldn’t have qualified for “blighted” status if the City Council vote had been delayed by a matter of weeks.
At the same April 2019 meeting, City Council also approved up to $1.1 billion in TIF funding for The 78 megadevelopment in the South Loop, an eligibility report for which was done by a firm hired by developer Related Midwest, the Tribune reported.
[Tribune] — Brianna Kelly