CHICAGO (CBS) — Bowing to the wishes of Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot, Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Monday said he wants to call off a planned City Council Finance Committee vote on $1.6 billion in tax increment financing for two massive development projects, Lincoln Yards and The 78.
Finance Committee Chair Patrick O’Connor, Emanuel’s floor leader, announced the committee would only hear testimony on the projects on Monday, then recess until Wednesday, when the panel might vote on the TIF proposals just before a meeting of the full City Council. However, O’Connor suggested it would be up to Emanuel and Lightfoot to decide if the projects will move forward then, or wait until the mayor-elect takes office next month.
“We will recess the meeting until Wednesday morning, hoping that the 48 hours between now and then will allow representatives of both the mayor’s office and the mayor-elect’s office to determine if there’s been enough information given to allow the projects to move forward at that time,” O’Connor said.
The Finance Committee had been expected to vote on $900 million in TIF money for Lincoln Yards, a $6 billion development project along the Chicago River between Bucktown and Lincoln Park; and $700 million in TIF funds for The 78, a $7 billion project planned for a largely vacant stretch along the Chicago River between the South Loop and Chinatown.
Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd), whose ward includes Lincoln Yards, said aldermen have made up their minds on the project, and should move forward with the a vote, this week. He also said Lightfoot has yet to reach out to him personally to discuss the project.
“I’ve had no conversations with her. I’ve reached out to her, she hasn’t called me back,” Hopkins said. “I’m prepared to work with Mayor Lightfoot on a variety of issues going forward, but today she has not done the one thing that you would expect her to do if she wanted this to be delayed, and that’s call the alderman whose ward contains this project.”
While he doesn’t sit on the Finance Committee, and can’t request a vote on the Lincoln Yards financing, Hopkins said he believes the majority of the City Council already supports the project, and should vote on it this week.
“I believe we have enough votes to pass this out of committee, and enough votes to pass this on the floor of the City Council. That was the case last week, it’s the case today. None of my colleagues on the City Council are undecided. They’ve all made up their minds one way or another. There’s no reason to delay this vote,” he said.
He also said O’Connor should allow the Finance Committee vote if Lincoln Yards supporters on the committee request it.
“He recognizes that, as committee chairman, you yield to the majority will on your committee. If there is a motion to do pass today, he will recognize that motion and allow a vote to be had,” he said.
However, moving forward with a vote not only would be defying Emanuel’s wishes, but would be an apparent slap in the face to Lightfoot, who has said the City Council should wait until she and new aldermen are sworn in next month.
“I think it puts the council and it puts this new mayor on bad footing if these two TIFs pass today,” said Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd), who has criticized the proposed tax subsidies for Lincoln Yards and The 78.
If the City Council approves TIF districts for the two projects, property taxes collected within those districts would be frozen for up to 23 years. New property tax revenue created by rising property values within the TIF districts would be dedicated to improvements within the areas.
“This is a bad deal for taxpayers. It’s not going to generate revenue for us and the needs that we have on pensions and our other obligations in the city until 2042, and that’s very disconcerting for most taxpayers in the city,” Waguespack said.
Earlier Monday, Mayor Emanuel’s office announced he had agreed with Lightfoot not to move forward with Monday’s planned votes on TIFs for the two development projects.
“In our first meeting, as well as in subsequent conversations, I made it very clear to the Mayor-elect that I would not move forward on these projects if she wanted to delay the process. While I firmly believe in the value of these projects to the entire city, out of respect for her wishes and request, I will honor my commitment and delay the vote. I am hopeful that under the mayor-elect’s leadership of the new City Council these critical projects will move forward and bring the kind of investment and job creation that has been a hallmark of the past eight years,” Emanuel said in a statement released Monday morning.
Sunday night, Lighftfoot had released a statement asking the Finance Committee to hold only a “subject matter meeting” on the projects on Monday, and hold off a final vote on the TIF funds.
“From day one, I have raised concerns about these deals and the deeply flawed process that has led us to this moment. That’s why I’m calling for the committee meeting tomorrow to be a transparent and fulsome subject matter hearing to address questions including consequences for other TIF districts, affordable housing options, plans for minority- and women-owned businesses, and impacts on diversity, population density, schools, traffic, and other factors,” Lightfoot said in a statement released Sunday night. “For major development projects to drive equitable economic growth, they must be coupled with community input and a transparent, informed decision-making process.”
There is also growing opposition to the two projects among new aldermen.
Eight incoming aldermen have called on Finance Committee Chairman Pat O’Connor to cancel Monday’s meeting to vote on the TIF money for Lincoln Yards and The 78 until the new mayor and new City Council take office.
Critics have said there’s not enough affordable housing included in the projects, and what is included is too expensive for most low-income families.
“We have billions of dollars that we are proposing to hand to wealthy developers who do not need this money,” said Amisha Patel, executive director of Grassroots Collaborative. “At the same time we have communities on the South and West sides that do not have the infrastructure, do not have the investments, do not have the ability to create jobs in the ways that they need to and deserve to, and that is not right.”
Lightfoot has said there are many other questions she would like answered before the city moves forward with the projects.
“I’ve been very clear that I think that the process has been very flawed. There’s a lot of questions that still are not answered regarding impacts on infrastructure, transportation, and just the surrounding quality of life. We are looking at a level of density that we don’t have in our city outside of the central business district,” she told CBS 2 last week.
Emanuel has defended the plans for a total of $1.6 billion in taxpayer subsidies for the two megaprojects, but Lightfoot has said she wants to take a closer look at the plans, and to delay the vote until after she and a new City Council are sworn in. She has said she believes she can get a better deal from Lincoln Yards developer Sterling Bay to either increase affordable housing units included in the project, or reduce the city’s tax subsidy.
According to lobbyists for Sterling Bay, the Finance Committee will call the Lincoln Yards TIF vote on Wednesday and they believe they have the votes to pass it.