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CHICAGO — There’s an old saying that change happens gradually, then all at once. For the first time since the announcement of the Lincoln Yards development, change is taking shape at the vast site along the Chicago River in Lincoln Park.

“When you’re building a city within a city – it takes a lot of planning,” said Andy Gloor, CEO of Sterling Bay, a Chicago-based real estate development firm.  

Sterling Bay is converting 53-acres of North Side riverfront property once occupied by the A. Finkle & Sons steel plant and other industrial sites, into a new community of homes, offices, entertainment venues, restaurants and parks.  

“This location is the center point, or the melting point for Chicago,” Gloor said. “If you look at the industrial corridor, which stretches about 800 acres, it separates neighborhoods, so I think Lincoln Yards is a way to kind of connect everyone together under a central location, and the y in the logo is the river coming together as well.” 

And for most of the past five years – since the project was first announced — Gloor and his team have been focused on one of the most complicated environmental clean-up efforts in recent Chicago history.  

“It took a ton of geologists, a ton of environmental experts to figure out exactly how to clean it,” he said.   

The company spent $10 million cleaning the site, including major undertakings like recycling 69,000 tons of concrete, heating and cleaning more than 27,000 tons of impacted soil, and removing 36 underground tanks filled with toxic waste  

“You name it, we did it,” Gloor said. “It’s 27,000 tons of compacted, environmentally contaminated soil. It had 70 tons of lead. Literally any environmental issue that you could think of, was here, and as I said it was almost 100 years of heavy metal manufacturing, so it needed a lot of clean up.” 

The first building is now being completed. It’ll house life sciences laboratories, a fast-growing sector of the economy.  

The $6 billion Lincoln Yards master plan calls for a brand-new riverwalk, which will be accessible to the public.  

The project will bring some 20,000 jobs, and traffic to the area, a source of concern for neighbors. But the developers are committed to improving the neighborhood’s infrastructure.  

“We’re going to be adding two new bridges,” Gloor said. “The Throop Street bridge right here, we’re going to start later this year, which will be an important artery running north-south between North Avenue and Webster, we’re also going to be adding a bridge on willow street there that connects east-west. Ultimately, what we’d like to do is re-work the intersection of Cortland and Elston.”  

Local concert nightspots like The Beat Kitchen and the Hideout also worried that plans for a new concert venue run by Live Nation would crush smaller stages, but Sterling Bay dropped those plans, along with a proposed soccer stadium.  

There were also racial equity advocates opposed to the allocation of tax increment financing funds to an upscale development in one of the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods. They brought lawsuit was brought to stop the $1.3 billion dollars in financing approved by the city council, but that lawsuit was dismissed. by Cook County Circuit Judge Neil Cohen, who ruled that the groups lacked legal standing. Still, there are those who continue to oppose the use of TIF funds at Lincoln Yards.

“We’re talking about $1.3 billion that – for context – is about the same amount of money that the mayor put into ten neighborhoods in her flagship program, called invest southwest. So, for every dollar that’s going into Lincoln Yards, 10 cents is going into Englewood through that program,” said Niketa Brar, the founding executive director of Chicago United for Equity. 

The TIF money isn’t a give-away from the city, however. It’s typically the responsibility of the city (or any local government) to pay for infrastructure and public works projects like roads, bridges, and public transportation.  The Cortland/Chicago River TIF District is an “infrastructure only” district that will help pay for improvements to roads and bridges in the area. The improvements are necessary, according to engineers, after decades of industrial use and neglect.  According to the agreement, the Cortland/Chicago River TIF enables private sector funds to be used to finance and construct public benefits such as streets, bridges, utilities, transit services, river access and other important public investments. Upon completion, if the projects meet specified standards set by the city, the developer will be reimbursed from the tax increment generated by the TIF district. 

Gloor said Sterling Bay continues to meet monthly with neighborhood stakeholders to get input and ideas as the development progresses.

“It’s something we’re going to continue to do  to make sure all the stakeholders in the neighborhood are comfortable with what we’re trying to do,” he said 

Here’s information on Lincoln Yards from Sterling Bay:  

PAST: Environmental Cleanup at Lincoln Yards 

Lincoln Yards is comprised of 53-acres of riverfront land in the North Branch Corridor, an area that was utilized for over 100 years by heavy industrial manufacturers. 

As a result of its industrial history, this land was heavily contaminated with toxic chemicals and posed a threat to the surrounding community when it was originally purchased by Sterling Bay. 

To prepare the land for the future development at Lincoln Yards, Sterling Bay had to invest $10M in extensive remediation efforts that have since set the stage for what will soon become a green, healthy, active new neighborhood in Chicago’s North Branch Corridor. 

Today, as a result of almost 5 years of intensive environmental engineering work, the site is considered safe for community use – a huge win for future generations of Chicagoans who will enjoy this new riverfront community for many decades to come. 

PRESENT: First Life Sciences Building at Lincoln Yards 

Currently under active construction, 1229 W Concord Place is Sterling Bay’s first ground-up development at Lincoln Yards and will offer the city’s rapidly growing biotech community over 320K SF of brand-new, ultramodern lab space. 

Chicago is home to many world-class universities that churn out very promising life sciences startups. However, because the city is so low on lab-specific real estate, these companies are forced to move to the coasts where lab space is much more abundant. 

In an effort to retain the life sciences talent coming out of our local universities, Sterling Bay is developing cutting-edge lab spaces at Lincoln Yards that will offer homegrown startups the resources they need to stay in Chicago, keeping the talent and economic opportunity here in our city.   

FUTURE: The Steelyard 

The Steelyard is the district of Lincoln Yards that will serve as the development’s beating heart of activity, lifestyle, recreation and entertainment. 

This district will house buzzing restaurants, experiential retail, several new entertainment venues and over 11 new acres of riverfront park space. 

Sterling Bay will break ground on The Steelyard this summer, marking a big step forward in delivering some of the most exciting benefits of Lincoln Yards to Chicagoans in the next couple years.