CHICAGO — Presiding over his last City Council meeting Wednesday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel scored a final victory after aldermen approved public tax subsidies for two massive redevelopment projects, despite fierce opposition.
Earlier in the day, the finance committee approved up to $2 billion in Tax Increment Financing for both Lincoln Yards, a $6 billion mixed-use development on 55 acres along the Chicago River between Lincoln Park and Bucktown, and The 78, a similar $7 billion project between the South Loop and Chinatown.
Demonstrators opposed to the city foregoing billions in property tax revenue filled two floors of City Hall and interrupted the meeting several times. Protestors also blocked off part of LaSalle for a short time outside City Hall. But in the end, Lincoln Yards was approved 32-13, and The 78 was authorized 31-14.
The vote was previously scheduled for Monday, but Mayor Emanuel delayed it after mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot requested they wait until she could get a closer look at the deal. To address issues raised by Lightfoot, Sterling Bay and Related Midwest — the developers behind Lincoln Yards and The 78, respectively — agreed to increase the amount of construction work going to minority and women-owned firms from $80 million to $400 million overall.
In a statement released Tuesday, Lightfoot announced her support for the projects after the developers agreed to increase the amount of construction work for minority and women-owned firms.
“There remains much more work to do in this regard, and I am hopeful we’ll be able to get there," Lightfoot's statement reads. "Under the terms of both redevelopment agreements, we have confirmed that the City has additional controls over these projects, which I am confident will allow for us to further improve these deals and to bring community voices into the process going forward."
Emanuel said the projects will generate massive tax revenue to help shore up city finances. The alderman who shepherded Lincoln Yards, Brian Hopkins of the 2nd Ward, said approval was never in doubt.
"We had the votes. We could have passed this over mayor-elect Lightfoot’s objections; that was true this morning as well but it’s better to work with someone than against someone," Hopkins said.
Alderman Leslie Hairston (5th Ward) questioned whether the city got, "the best bang for our buck." Other activists said they are disappointed in Lightfoot, but critics say the outcome of Wednesday's vote was likely never in doubt.
"I knew this was a go from Day One; you don’t do this kind of pay-to-play without having this thing totally cooked from the beginning," Alderman Scott Waugespeck (32nd Ward) said.
When the business wrapped up, the meeting turned to a tribute to Mayor Emanuel and his family before he leaves office next month.
"I want to thank you for doing everything that you have done to help me in my community," said Alderman Anthony Beale (9th Ward).
During a news conference following the meeting, the mayor who often discusses his love for the job. talked about what he won’t miss.
"I am not gonna miss going to hospitals. I’m not gonna miss sitting next to a parent whose kid is sitting there and then nobody else shows up and they are there by themselves. The most isolated feeling that you have as a parent and all you have to offer is a hug," Emanuel said.