Back-to-back blessings loom for Lincoln Yards TIF district

Two city bodies will soon consider public funding that would support the Lincoln Yards complex on the North Side.

The city of Chicago has proposed the Cortland and Chicago River tax-increment financing (TIF) district to fund public infrastructure in and around the complex.

Lincoln Yards' 54 acres would straddle the Chicago River's North Branch, north and south of Cortland St.

Lincoln Yards footprint
Source: city of Chicago.

State law requires a proposed TIF district to go through a half-dozen approval steps. For the Cortland district, the first step was a public meeting in November of last year. The most recent step was a Jan. 11 approval by a multi-governmental joint review board.

The next step in the approval of the TIF district will come at a public hearing held by the city's Community Development Commission (CDC) on Tuesday, Feb. 19 at 1:00 p.m.

If, as expected, the CDC green-lights the TIF district, the city's plan for the district will face an approval vote two days later by the Chicago Plan Commission—on Thursday, Feb. 21 at 10 a.m.

The complicated series of governmental approvals involving Lincoln Yards and the Cortland and Chicago River TIF district have confused area residents—and some journalists.

One reason for the confusion: The city has two separate approval tracks for constructing Lincoln Yards and establishing the TIF district—though they're proceeding at the same time.

The process for approving Lincoln Yards construction began in mid-2018, when developer Sterling Bay filed with the city an application for a planned development. That application evolved into two zoning map amendment ordinances, which the Chicago Plan Commission voted to approve on Jan. 24.

The zoning ordinances next will face a vote by the City Council's zoning committee. If passed by the committee, the ordinances will go to the entire council for final approval—which would clear the way for Sterling Bay to pull permits for starting construction.

Cortland/Chicago River TIF
Bold dotted line shows the border of the Cortland and Chicago River
tax-increment financing district. Source: city of Chicago.

Separately, the city of Chicago conceived of the Cortland and Chicago River TIF district as early as November, 2017.

The city estimates that the TIF district, which will cover 168 acres along the Chicago River's North Branch, will divert up to $1.3 billion in property taxes to fund public infrastructure: streets, bridges, water lines, sewers, transit, and lighting. Such infrastructure would accommodate the residents, workers, and visitors that Lincoln Yards—which will comprise about two-fifths of the TIF district—would bring.

As required by state law, the TIF district must go through a half-dozen approval steps—which began with a public meeting in November, 2018. The next step is approval by the Community Development Commission.

Following CDC approval, the next step—which might puzzle some—is approval by the Chicago Plan Commission of the city's plan for the TIF district.

Although the Plan Commission has already okayed the zoning ordinances for Lincoln Yards, the commission's approval of the surrounding TIF district is (from the city's standpoint) a separate matter—and is required by city regulations.

If approved by the Plan Commission, the TIF district faces a vote by the City Council's finance committee, and then by the full council.

Planning department Commissioner David Reifman has said the he wants the district approved by April—which is the month before Mayor Rahm Emanuel leaves office.

Both the CDC and Plan Commission meetings take place in City Council chambers on the second floor of City Hall.