Lori Lightfoot blasts One Central’s Springfield surprise

Chicago’s new mayor criticized developer Bob Dunn for slipping authorization for $5 billion into the state capital budget for a giant new transit hub next to Soldier Field.

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In a brief meeting Wednesday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot blasted developer Bob Dunn for slipping authorization for $5 billion into the state capital budget for his One Central development without consulting local legislators.

That money is for a giant new transit hub next to Soldier Field, which would provide the structural support for Dunn’s $20 billion residential and commercial development over Metra train tracks.

I don’t like the way that they are conducting themselves,” Lightfoot told the Sun-Times, adding that she isn’t sure “it would be a city priority to have a transportation hub in that location.” With a huge backlog of transit repairs, she said, “I’m not sure that’s where we should be spending limited resources.”

Perhaps Lightfoot’s caution will serve as a counterweight to Governor J.B. Pritzker’s enthusiasm for the project. Pritzker’s support, unchecked, could stifle opposition from regional transit agencies that already have desperate capital needs, and “haven’t been clamoring for a massive hub south of downtown” requiring new extensions to CTA and Metra lines, columnist Joe Cahill writes in Crain’s.

The project is another example of how “the narrow priorities of real estate developers drive public transit planning around here,” according to Cahill — an approach that “advances private interests while neglecting urgent, systemwide capital needs affecting all riders.”

In another context, it’s a problem hinted at eight years ago by Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s TIF Reform Task Force, which called for aligning TIF investment with a citywide economic development plan and a capital budget, in order to foster decision-making that is “less reactive.”

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A recent audit by the Inspector General found that the Emanuel administration fell far short on both of those (and several other) recommendations. Emanuel’s economic development plan — written by World Business Chicago, a private entity controlled by the mayor — didn’t include community-level plans that could actually guide investment decisions. And the city’s capital investment plan merely lists planned projects — rather than offering a comprehensive catalog of infrastructure needs — making prioritization impossible. Without those plans, public investment decisions are made largely in response to developer initiatives.

Lightfoot’s transition plan called for connecting community development plans with a comprehensive citywide vision, and aligning capital spending with community plans. It also called for developing targeted transportation priorities “and a plan to achieve them.”

Lightfoot could follow her own transition team’s recommendations, take the time to develop those plans — and tell Dunn to come back in a year or two and propose something that fits with the city’s priorities.