After years of planning and public meetings, Chicago-based developer Sterling Bay has taken the wraps off the next phase of construction for the Lincoln Yards mega-project, a major development which will reshape over 50 acres of former industrial land along the Chicago River’s North Branch.
Sterling Bay formally unveiled the next phase framework at a public open house on Tuesday, December 14 for residents to get an up-close look at what to expect in the coming years.
While the full Lincoln Yards site winds around an S-curve in the river, and includes sprawling parcels on both sides of the Chicago River, the upcoming construction phase is focused on the southernmost section of land, which is simply dubbed “Lincoln Yards South.” The slides and images provided by Sterling Bay for the open house offer details on site locations, conceptual renderings of the upcoming buildings, and a timeline for construction.
However, construction on the Lincoln Yards project has already been underway.
Third-party logistics firm C.H. Robinson, the first office anchor tenant for the mega-development, moved into its new space along the North Branch riverfront back in 2018. A year later, Sterling Bay formally opened its Fleet Fields recreational athletic fields south of Cortland Street. And then more recently, the developer and its partners kicked off construction of the upcoming ALLY life sciences building, which will feature nearly 300,000 square feet of space for research labs and offices.
And as the mega-development seeks to reshape a major swath of the North Side, the city assembled a group of stakeholders composed of area residents and industry professionals to help oversee some of the final steps in the process and serve as a voice for the community.
This formation of, and participation by, the city-led Community Advisory Council helped establish a model for future mega-developments, such as Related Midwest’s ambitious project, The 78, near the South Loop.
“One of the things that we’ve talked about with the Community Advisory Council is the park, and I think it’s important to keep in mind that we’re looking at roughly 11 acres of park space,” says Fred Krol, Senior Counsel and Director for Government and Community Relations for Sterling Bay.
“Lincoln Yards South, under the guidelines of the planned development, is really intended to be more recreational in focus, whereas the park space [at Lincoln Yards North], is intended to be more self-directed.”
But there are likely to be some changes to the outcome, thanks in part to input from the community members participating in the final tweaks to the nuts and bolts of the master plan.
“When we were previewing our interpretation of what the planned development called for in regards to the park space, we heard recommendations from the Community Advisory Council that we could incorporate a bit more ‘contemplative space’ and less programmed or focused space, and we’ve worked to increase that amount within Lincoln Yards South,” Krol explains of the park elements for the upcoming phase.
Other partners include SOM, which led the master planning for the mega-development, Gensler and HPA, which are designing individual buildings for Lincoln Yards South, as well as Hoerr Schaudt and Site Design Group, both of which will handle landscape design duties for the project.
The mega-development’s outdoor space and programming is as crucial a piece of the master plan as the new buildings, especially as the transformation of the former industrial site will have an impact on the North Side and North Branch for generations to come. The completed Lincoln Yards will also feature a long new stretch of coveted riverwalk.
However, Lincoln Yards isn’t a development solely focused on outdoor recreation — there are a number of new buildings also planned for this next phase. Of the nine major elements which are expected to be completed by 2024, six will be new structures. These buildings will include a mix of new retail space, residences and offices. And then by 2025, there will be additional construction of new residential buildings, as well as major infrastructure improvements.
The recently unveiled four-year plan also highlights the inclusion of a water taxi station, a canoe and kayak launch, a dog run, and the much anticipated 606 extension. Long discussed, and perhaps seen as a sort of trade-off as a public good in exchange for density, the multi-million dollar extension will connect the mega-development to neighborhoods like Bucktown, Logan Square, and Humboldt Park via the popular bicycle trail and footpath.
And the good news for North Side residents who frequent the elevated park and path is that the extension is already underway.
“That’s something that we’re already starting to work on,” Krol says of the 606 extension. “Our goal is that we’d be able to bring that extension online by 2025 or so, but we view that as another important community benefit, much the same as the park.”
Infrastructure is yet another key component to the next phase, as well as for the mega-development as a whole. New roads and utility upgrades are expected to be completed in the coming years, knitting the pieces of Lincoln Yards together within itself and the surrounding communities. Getting people in and out of Lincoln Yards smoothly and efficiently, for whichever purpose individuals are there for, will be critical to the development’s success.
As for rail transit, the plan is still to address the aging and deteriorating Clybourn Metra station nearby.
“One of the things that we’re looking at are some interim improvements to the existing Clybourn station and how we might be able to facilitate that,” Krol says of the Metra stop. “You know, I think anyone who’s been to that station would agree that it’s not hospitable — so, how can we make that feel a little bit lighter, brighter, safer, more accessible?”
While Lincoln Yards presses forward, another major point of discussion that remains to be determined is the political leadership and ward boundaries. Despite any changing political winds or local leadership, the project has already been thoroughly discussed and voted on by the Chicago City Council. “I think it’s important to just remind ourselves that we have an approved Planned Development,” Krol says.
With a projected outlook four years in the future, it’s also likely that the pandemic will be in the rearview mirror when this phase is completed. But even still, some of the health and safety changes we’ve seen in office buildings, residential towers and shops since the start of the pandemic could perhaps carry over well into the coming years.
But beyond the inclusion of hand sanitizing stations and the like, did the pandemic have any major impact on the Lincoln Yards master plan and programming? Krol offers a straightforward enough response in regards to this inquiry.
“In terms of the overall plan that we set forward for the area, I don’t think it’s changed really in any kind of meaningful way at this point.”
This article also appears in the December 2021 issue of Illinois Real Estate Journal.