Lincoln Yards promises to transform the Chicago riverfront.
Today I will discuss Lincoln Yards, one of the biggest and most exciting real estate developments in Chicago. Located at the heart of Chicago's northside, along the North Branch of the Chicago River, this is a six-billion-dollar mixed-use community under the helm of the developer Sterling Bay. This will revitalize the riverfront between Bucktown, Wicker Park, and Lincoln Park.
The project will include up to 14 million square feet of new commercial and residential construction, including up to 6,000 residential units with a 20 percent affordability requirement, 21 acres of public open space, multiple infrastructures and transportation improvements, and more than $120 million in development fees.
So now let’s dig deeper into the Lincoln Yards mega-development project.
The Story Behind Lincoln Yards
Lincoln Yards is one of Chicago’s most ambitious and contentious real estate projects in decades. New skyscrapers, roads and bridges, and parkland would be part of the $6 billion, 55-acre project.
Here's a short timeline of Lincoln Yards development.
January 2013 - A. Finkl & Sons Co., a century-old steelmaker on 22 acres just west of the city's Lincoln Park district, began phasing out manufacturing in January 2013, with plans to relocate its operations to the South Side.
March 2015 - Former A. Finkl & Sons executives who control the North Side property are demolishing structures in preparation to sell the land to a developer.
May 2015 - Several redevelopment plans for the 40 acres in Lincoln Park that were previously occupied by a steel factory and other companies were presented at a meeting. Light manufacturing, research, and development, breweries, restaurants, or redevelopment into a single-company campus are among the choices that would maintain the site's "planned manufacturing district" zoning status.
August 2015 - Sterling Bay paid $21.25 million for the 4.3-acre former Gutmann tannery site at 1511 W. Randolph, while it is in advanced talks to buy the larger Finkl steel plant site nearby. $17.2 million for the 3.6-acre former A. Webster property on Webster Ave. Site of Lakin & Sons at 2044 N. The Gutmann site is later converted into an office building, which is leased to logistics firm C.H. Robinson. That structure will eventually be incorporated into the Lincoln Yards master plan.
April 2016 - Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago has launched a "public review process" that might remove zoning restrictions in 25 industrial corridors, allowing for retail, residential, technological, and commercial development. One of the sites under consideration is the former A. On the North Side, the Finkl & Sons steel mill.
Community engagement for the Lincoln Yards project, including the North Branch Framework process, began in 2016. This involved various community meetings, stakeholder group meetings, block club meetings, and three community surveys.
December 2016 - Sterling Bay purchased the 22-acre Finkl & Sons steel factory for $140 million. This developer proposed redevelopment guidelines for the North Branch industrial area shortly after purchasing the former Finkl site. Urban plazas, open spaces, and improvements to pedestrian walkways and bike bridges are all included in the preliminary concept.
May 2017 - Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the city's Department of Planning and Development have released a framework for repurposing long-used industrial land along a 3.7-mile stretch of the Chicago River, including the former Finkl site. They call for the project’s initial intended manufacturing district to be demolished.
July 2017 - The City of Chicago government accepted Sterling Bay's $104.7 million offer to purchase an 18-acre Department of Fleet and Facility Management site on Throop Street near the river. They intended to relocate the vehicle repair facility to the South Side.
September 2017 - Amazon, based in Seattle, has announced plans to build a second headquarters, dubbed HQ2, which might result in the creation of up to 50,000 high-paying jobs in the chosen North American city. Officials from Chicago and the state soon banded together to pursue the arrangement.
October 2017 - The city and state have formally submitted their Amazon HQ2 application, which includes eight potential sites in Chicago, including Lincoln Yards, and two in the suburbs. Sterling Bay offered a sports and entertainment stadium on the Bucktown bank of the Chicago River in order to entice the corporation to relocate to Chicago.
November 2017 - Sterling Bay purchased a United Soccer League expansion franchise to play at their planned sports and entertainment stadium near the Chicago River.
January 2018 - Chicago became one of 20 locations that are still in the running to host Amazon's second headquarters. Lincoln Yards was one of ten potential locations for the company's second headquarters.
March 2018 - Officials from Amazon check five potential headquarters locations in Chicago, including Lincoln Yards.
May 2018 - Tom Ricketts, the owner of the Chicago Cubs, announced the formation of a joint venture with Sterling Bay to bring a United Soccer League expansion franchise to the planned Lincoln Yards development.
At the same time, Live Nation Entertainment, the world's largest concert organizer and corporate parent of Ticketmaster agreed to assist in the construction and operation of up to five entertainment venues within the Lincoln Yards development.
July 2018 - General Iron Industries, which is surrounded on three sides by the Lincoln Yards development, announced intentions to sell its 21.5-acre scrapyard along Clybourn Avenue and relocate to the city's Southeast Side. Later, local aldermen proposed incorporating the land into a new 24-acre park near Lincoln Yards.
September 2018 - Mayor Rahm Emanuel has announced that he will not seek re-election to a third term, casting doubt on Chicago's quest for Amazon's second headquarters and numerous potential megadevelopments needing city zoning permission.
November 2018 - Amazon decided that it will split its HQ2 into two campuses, one in New York and the other in suburban Washington, D.C. So developers in Chicago scrambled to find other significant tenants to underpin their ambitious mixed-use projects.
December 2018 - Several Chicago-based independent music venues have formed a coalition to protest Live Nation's ambitions to open new venues in Lincoln Yards.
In the midst of this furor, the City Council acquired control of abandoned railroad tracks that run across much of the North Side, with the objective of someday building a transit corridor between Lincoln Yards and downtown commuter rail stations for buses, and trains, or autonomous cars.
January 2019 - The Chicago Plan Commission approved the Zoning for Lincoln Yards in January 2019.
In an effort to earn the support of neighborhood groups and 2nd Ward Ald., Sterling Bay has scrapped plans for a 20,000-seat soccer stadium and Live Nation entertainment venues. The proposed community sports fields and other open spaces have been proposed in place of the stadium.
February 2019 - The Community Development Commission has approved up to $900 million in tax-increment financing — plus an additional $400 million in financing — to assist Sterling Bay in funding infrastructure expenditures on the North Side's congested neighborhood.
According to the RDA, $490 million in future increments from the Cortland/Chicago River TIF District will reimburse Sterling Bay for the construction of new public infrastructure identified during the community engagement process, including:
$160 million to build new vehicular bridges at Dominick Street, Armitage Avenue, and Concord Place
$110 million to rebuild the intersection at Elston Avenue and Armitage
$96 million for new roadways
$54 million for improvements to existing roadways
$45 million for river wall improvements
$25 million toward the extension of The 606
March 2019 - The Chicago City Council approved the zoning for Lincoln Yards in March 2019. At the same time, Sterling Bay revised its development plan, reducing the height of the tallest structure from 595 feet to 595 feet and the total density from 14.5 million square feet to 14.5 million square feet.
April 2019 - This month was very tense for Lincoln Yards. First Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced that aldermen should postpone voting on up to $1.3 billion in TIF cash and financing to assist new infrastructure near Lincoln Yards. Then the Finance Committee and subsequently the full City Council approve TIF financing. After Sterling Bay pledges to offer more construction contracts to women and minority-owned businesses.
This investment includes the following:
$77 million to finance 21 acres of public open space
$64 million toward the extension of The 606 trail
$48 million to fund a public riverwalk
$46 million for river wall improvements
$33 million to finance improvements of existing roads within the development, including portions of Dickens, Wabansia, Magnolia, and Ada
$24 million in environmental remediation and site prep
$1 million toward water taxi stations
June 2019 - The Grassroots Collaborative and Raise Your Hand organizations have petitioned a judge to order the city to stop sponsoring the initiative.
December 2021 - Sterling Bay hosted an open house in December 2021 for the community to visit the Lincoln Yards Experience Center, and view plans associated with the Lincoln Yards South parcels C1, D1, and the park, all of which were included in the original development plan approved in 2019.
Projects within Lincoln Yards
Lincoln Yards is going to be a community that will offer new economic opportunities, new transportation options, and new environmental benefits for Chicagoans to enjoy.
Here are the different components of the Lincoln Yards development plan:
A. Award-winning Engineering Project with V3
V3 is the principal environmental and infrastructure design firm for the Lincoln Yards redevelopment. Throughout the property, V3 used a site preparation method for environmental remediation, stormwater management, and foundation recycling/earthwork management. This method sped up the process by allowing work to be completed concurrently with the entire entitlement process. It also saved money by merging remediation and development activities, which removed the need for double handling of demolition and earthwork materials.
Lincoln Yards received the ACEC – Illinois 2021 Engineering Excellence Special Achievement Award for this sustainable engineering design.
B. The Steelyard
Sterling Bay envisions the Steelyard as a meeting space for locals and visitors alike, bringing them together to meet, play, celebrate, and develop. This is a mixed-use commerce and entertainment zone on the project's southern half, north of W Concord Place, which will be extended east with a new bridge across the river.
This will include a 19-story, 350-unit residential building, a 15-story commercial building, and a market hall.
C. Steelyard Main Street
Visitors will be able to walk through to the river in a 'pedestrian-oriented location' flanked with multi-use spaces and an internal network of smaller scaled laneways, creating a dynamic urban zone, just south of the development's new main park. To the east, the Chicago River will serve as a bookend for the laneways, with a future water taxi station and upgraded riverwalk. The height of the buildings in the area will vary, but most will be around 130 feet tall. Those who drive will have easy access to the majority of the project's proposed shared parking structures just west of the site along the expressway, which will help to alleviate traffic congestion.
D. ALLY at 1229 West Concord
ALLY @ 1229 West Concord is a 280,000-square-foot development along the North Branch of the Chicago River that will give much-needed lab space to Chicago's fast-developing life science community. This gives full support with a unique combination of wellness-driven design, state-of-the-art R&D facilities, collaborative workplaces, and powerful amenities.
It includes Class A medical research lab space, conference, and creative office space. Tenants will have access to flexible floor plates, private balconies, and ceiling spans of 15 feet. Integrated amenities and building features include a double-height lobby, a fitness and wellness center, a tenant lounge, an event space with a stage and pre-function bar, as well as a conference center with an attached lounge.
There is also the stepped terrace area with lounge seating, next to which will be a new stretch of Riverwalk measuring 128 feet. And people can take advantage of the 55 spaces of parking in an underground garage that is accessible from Concord.
E. 1685 N Throop
The new Steelyard's initial structure will be a mixed-use midrise connected to the current road on the district's west end. The 11-story, 365,000-square-foot structure will provide the Steelyard's only available office space, with floor sizes ranging from 28,000 to 35,000 square feet, following the post-Covid trend of smaller floors. All levels will have great ceiling heights and massive curtain wall windows with views of the cityscape and river.
F. The Marketplace Retail (or Market Hall)
Also known as Market Hall, the Marketplace will be connected at grade level to Parcel D.1. With a design similar to older retail buildings, the three-level building will feature basement-level back of house spaces, a marketplace level retail space and entry, as well as two raised park-level retail spaces with nearly a combined 10,000 square feet of commercial space and public restrooms. This building will be expected to open in 2024.
G. Lincoln Yards Park
Lincoln Yards includes a massive park mostly built at an elevated level above a large shared parking garage. The park will feature a connection to the 606, gardens, hardsports courts, artificial turf fields, bocce deck, dog runs, playground, floating wetlands, a water taxi stop, a small boathouse with kayak storage, a concession space, and restrooms as well as a boat launch on the river.
H. Life Sciences Building in 2430 Halsted St.
Prysm Life Sciences, a new life sciences venture sponsored by the Lincoln Yards development, intends to serve as a catalyst for a sustainable and scalable life science community in the Lincoln Park neighborhood.
Prysm Life Sciences will be located at 2430 North Halsted St., a five-story medical research building with over 120,000 square feet of lab and office space. In the near future, the area will be used by biopharma, MedTech, diagnostics, and life science instrument firms, and will comprise flexible shared wet lab and workspace, lab pods, and private suites.
I. Transportation Improvements
The transportation infrastructure at Lincoln Yards has been deliberately designed to encourage the use of bikeways, pedestrian pathways, and public transportation as much as possible. Simultaneously, smart urban technologies will be implemented to manage traffic and parking demands.
J. Fleet Fields
Fleet Fields at Lincoln Yards is a public recreational area with three public fields open to the public for both free and league play. The Fields are the first in a series of initiatives by the Lincoln Yards team to bring Chicagoans together and offer open space for all.
K. Meanwhile at Lincoln Yards
Meanwhile at Lincoln Yards is a new community activation space featuring sports, arts, and entertainment programming to preview the sights, sounds, and experiences being considered for Lincoln Yards in the future. Located at Ada Street and Concord Place, adjacent to Fleet Fields, Meanwhile at Lincoln Yards offers three new basketball courts called Alley Oops, an open Harmony Zone for artistic performances and film screenings, and a designated area featuring a rotating collection of local food, beverage, and small shop operators.
But as my fiduciary duty, I will also show you the contentious issues that haunt Lincoln Yards. Think of it as the cons to the earlier pros of the project.
Controversies with Lincoln Yards
However, as much as it has so much potential to improve and grow Chicago's North Branch Corridor, Lincoln Yards still faces many controversies.
a. Music venues oppose the project surrounding the Hideout
Chicago's indie music venues formed CIVL, a coalition to fight the planned construction around The Hideout.
The Hideout is just a few blocks from the Lincoln Yards development's proposed soccer stadium. Robert Gomez of Subterranean and Beat Kitchen, Katie Tuten of The Hideout, and others are anxious about what will happen to their venues and others across the city now that Live Nation has agreed to invest millions in the entertainment sector. Club owners are concerned about how their businesses will fare if a massive new facility owned by the country's leading promoter opens.
Due to this pushback from CIVL, Sterling Bay scrapped the entertainment district and proposed soccer stadium. Instead, there would be restaurants, theaters, and smaller music venues. And Live Nation will have no ownership over these places.
b. Lincoln Yards feels homogenizing
Another crucial concern about Lincoln Yards is the fear of gentrification and homogenizing. The mega-development has a unified feel to it. And this makes some Chicagoans uncomfortable because it could kill the diversity that makes Chicago vibrant.
c. Need for more affordable housing
Like other mega-developments in Chicago, the Chicago city government and locals clamored for affordable housing. Previously, off-site affordable units within 3 miles have been reduced from 600 to 300. So Sterling Bay revised its original plan and quadrupled the number of on-site affordable housing. According to Sterling Bay executives, they would build around 1,000 affordable apartments citywide, and provide 15 years of rental subsidies for 130 very low-income households.
d. A predatory lender is a major investor in the Lincoln Yards project
Another issue that added fuel to the fire of dissent against Lincoln Yards is a particular investor. Lone Star Funds, a $60 billion Dallas-based private equity firm that specializes in acquiring troubled mortgages—and has been chastised for predatory lending and wrongfully evicting families—is one of the two principal investors in Lincoln Yards. Distressed mortgages are disproportionately concentrated in working-class communities of color, who have been systematically targeted for more expensive loan products and have lost the most home equity as a result of the housing meltdown.
Regardless of these issues, Sterling Bay has pushed through with the Lincoln Yards, constructing it in multiple phases starting last year.
Progress in 2022
Lincoln Yards is running full steam ahead in its development. There have been many milestones that this development has reached, especially in 2022. In particular, here are the recent updates to this ongoing real estate development:
Last January 2022, Sterling Bay presented to the Chicago Plan Commission and the public the update on plans to construct a new publicly accessible six-acre park, a new 15-story office and retail building, and a new 19-story mixed-use residential building on parcels B.1, C.1, and D.1.
In March 14, 2022, WD3 Associates, a Chicago-area Black-owned concrete supplier, completed its work as a subcontractor on the ALLY at 1229 West Concord. The company's $2.5 million contract is part of Sterling Bay’s awarding of up to $38 million in contracts to local and minority-owned companies to work on Lincoln Yards.
On April 4, 2022, Sterling Bay and Harrison Street celebrated the structural completion of ALLY at 1229 W Concord Place. The building is expected to open to tenants in the last quarter of 2022.
The riverfront area of the Lincoln Yards site has been completely cleaned up in April 2022. Sterling Bay spent $10 million cleaning the site, including major undertakings like recycling 69,000 tons of concrete, heating and cleaning more than 27,000 tons of impacted soil, and removing 36 underground tanks filled with toxic waste. This was an extensive remediation project for the Lincoln Yards development. After five years of this environmental preservation work, the site is now safe for community use.
General Iron’s owner wanted to return the junked-car and metal-shredding business to Lincoln Park where it operated for decades before shutting down at the end of 2020. But in April this year, city officials formally rejected the plan — submitted through three permit applications in February. The rejection came from the widespread opposition from the community about General Iron’s pollution and foul odors. The city has continuously petitioned for the General Irons old site to be integrated into the Lincoln Yards development, like the Finkl Steel factory.
The Lincoln Yards megadevelopment is now under longtime critic Ald. Scott Waguespack of the 32nd Ward. The Chicago Independent Venue League and other watchdogs support this because they believe that Alderman Waguespack “will keep the community’s interest front and center” as Lincoln Yards moves forward.
The Steelyard will break ground this summer 2022 after it was approved by the Chicago Plan Commission. And construction is expected to end within two years of the start date.
How Lincoln Yards will transform the Chicago riverfront
Sterling Bay’s Lincoln Yards project is a sustainable and intensely transformative development of brownfields into green spaces and neighborhood amenities. They blend sustainable engineering and masterful community planning to generate greater opportunity and growth in Chicago.
It’s anticipated to have a huge impact on the economy, creating 23,000 onsite jobs and generating $38.4 million annually in net new revenue for the city. And also increase the supply of affordable housing in the Chicago metropolitan area.