Massive Lincoln Yards development scraps planned stadium, entertainment district

CHICAGO — It’s back to the drawing board for Sterling Bay's proposed $5 billion Lincoln Yards development after two major components, a soccer stadium and an entertainment district, met strong opposition from residents and the local alderman.

As it stands now, Alderman Brian Hopkins (D-2nd Ward) says he does not support the proposal, which would build residences, hotels and businesses on 70 acres along the North Branch of the Chicago River once home to Finkl Steel.

"It all added up to something that was simply too big and too dense and the existing infrastructure certainly couldn’t handle it," Hopkins said.

Plans for a soccer stadium and entertainment district apparently doomed the project, raising concerns about traffic congestion and competition with independent music venues. The 20,000-seat sports stadium was to be the home to a new professional soccer franchise owned by Cubs owner Tom Ricketts. A collection of several music venues of different sizes making up an entertainment district was to be run by mega events promoter Live Nation.

But residents expressed concerns the stadium would bring too much traffic to the area. Owners of some of Chicago's independent music venues also started a coalition called Chicago Independent Venue League (CIVL) to voice their opposition to the plan. Sterling Bay spent months meeting with community members and the alderman, trying to convince them otherwise.

"In the end, it just wasn’t convincing to me or any of the representatives of the neighborhood associations that I’m working with on this," Hopkins said.

In a statement, Sterling Bay said it is revising its plans, removing the stadium and is breaking up the entertainment district, instead creating assorted smaller venues where independent music operators will have the opportunity to participate.

"Alderman Hopkins and residents have been very clear: they do not want a stadium. And we want to say: we heard you loud and clear," the statement said.

As for traffic congestion concerns, Hopkins is hoping the proposal will include plans for two or possibly three new bridges over the Chicago River, a major intersection realignment at Armitage, Ashland and Elston, and improvements to existing infrastructure, paid for with more than $800-million in TIF money set aside from expected property taxes.

"You can buy a lot of traffic congestion relief for that amount of money, and I’ve made it clear that I expect the majority of the TIF funds need to go to traffic and transit improvement, and to parks and open space," Hopkins said.

Hopkins said it will be a lengthy process, but he’s convinced Sterling Bay will eventually come up with a proposal he can support.

The revised plan will be subject to additional public hearings, and after that requires an ordinance to get through City Council before it can move forward.