A Chicago developer tied to the Midwest envisions using a new White Sox stadium as a catalyst for a multibillion-dollar development on vacant South Loop land known as 78th that will breathe new life into the heart of downtown.
Sources familiar with the plan outlined the developer's vision for the 62-acre space, which would include 5,000 housing units, 1,000 of which are affordable, an office building, a hotel and dozens of restaurants and bars along the revitalized south riverfront.
The 35,000- to 38,000-seat stadium that will be the new home of the White Sox will be a piece of the puzzle, but it's just a piece. If this plan comes to fruition, it will allow the lot to finally claim the title of Chicago's “78th District.”
That vision stunned Ald. Nicole Lee, whose 11th Ward includes the Bridgeport neighborhood where the Sox now play at Guaranteed Rate Stadium.
She was briefed Friday night by Related Midwest, as well as Sox president Jerry Reinsdorf and Terry Savarese, the team's president of stadium operations. And she had to admit, it sounded pretty good for the Socks.
“What I saw was a very well thought out plan,” Lee told the Sun-Times on Friday evening.
“You're talking about a modern stadium built in the form of a community master plan. … This is not something that falls from the sky. We don't have that” in Bridgeport, she added.
“It breaks my heart to think the team could go anywhere but stay on 35th Street. But that's their business and they have to make their own decisions.”
More than a football field
Plans also include 4,000 parking spaces down Roosevelt Road north of the stadium and, to the south, a school for thousands of students along with a University of Illinois research center known as the Discovery Partners Institute. The institute's executive director, Bill Jackson, emphasized that these were key elements of the relevant Midwest plans.
A source who was briefed on the plan said: “The investment will be billions of dollars higher than in the first phase.” “It's not just a football stadium. It's a way to change a whole part of the city.
The source added: “Bringing people back to the city center…is a difficult economic necessity for this city.” “They will come downtown because there are things to do. … And this is a huge step toward that. Someone is working on the Willis Tower. They can walk to a ballgame and this great entertainment district built around it. It's a bigger story than just the ballpark.” .
Many questions remain, including how much Reinsdorf would be willing to contribute and how much public funding would be required – given the high demand on public resources, and the public's low appetite for stadium funding.
After the Chicago Sun-Times reported earlier this week that the Sox were in serious negotiations about moving to The 78, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker reiterated his doubts about public funding for stadiums, telling reporters that “no one has yet asked” the state or Illinois General Assembly, and that he would “consider all that they may propose or require.”
“You know my point about privately owned teams and whether the public should have to pay for private facilities that are going to be used for private business,” Pritzker added. “Having said that, there are things that the government does.” [to] Supporting businesses across the state.”
Can TIF funds be used?
The City Council authorized a tax increment financing district in 2019 to fund infrastructure projects needed to prepare The 78th, a former rail yard, for development.
But using TIF money for the stadium could be politically risky for Mayor Brandon Johnson, who has promised to rein in TIFs and lucrative subsidies to developers.
The mayor's $16.7 billion 2024 budget used a record $434 million TIF surplus to make good on his promise to preserve property taxes.
However, Johnson may be excited enough about the prospect of a new neighborhood in the South Side that he might consider tapping into it with TIF funds.
“The river is one of our greatest assets. If there was a south anchor on the riverfront that was already driving traffic, activity and energy, that would have a huge impact on further maximizing that essential asset. It would give us something to attract tourists and residents to the city,” a mayor ally said. “.
The Illinois Sports Facilities Authority built and owns Guaranteed Rate Field. The authority has not yet been briefed on the new plan, but it will likely co-finance a new baseball stadium using the usual sources of hotel, restaurant and other tourism taxes.
If the White Sox move, the old stadium will need a new user. Some have suggested that the Chicago Fire soccer team could move there from Soldier Field. The Fire would not comment directly on that possibility, saying the club's priority now is to complete its training facility on the Near West Side.
The White Sox and Related have thought about what's next for the current stadium, Lee said, and know “they can't leave us in a hole.”
Lee also agreed that “fire makes the most sense” as a new tenant.
Field rent at a guaranteed price
Guaranteed Rate Field opened in 1991 next to the team's old home, the now-demolished Comiskey Park. The financing came together in an eleventh-hour deal that prevented the Sox from moving to St. Petersburg, Florida.
Then the government. Jim Thompson stopped the clock to pressure lawmakers, who approved the deal after a midnight deadline in session in 1988. It included revenue generated by a tax increase on Chicago hotel rooms and $5 million in annual contributions from the city and state.
The initial lease was a very favorable one for the Sox. During its first decade, the team paid no rent if annual attendance was less than 1.2 million. Under the current lease, which runs through the 2029 season, the team pays $1.5 million in rent annually. The Sox control revenue from ticket sales, concessions, parking and merchandise operations.
While the park has been renovated over the years, there has been no development around the park, although the lease was amended in recent years to allow the Sox to open a team store and restaurant on state-owned land across the street.
Placing the White Sox in a denser part of town would require a different layout, with multi-level underground parking. Planners likely envision that many fans will arrive at the games from the CTA's Roosevelt Road station serving the Red, Green and Orange lines, and from commuter services. Water taxis are also possible.
The new Sox stadium will be financed “like any other stadium in America,” the source said. “There will be a number of different sources.”
Is the downtown housing market saturated?
It is still unclear how many housing units the market can accommodate. Average rents downtown are still rising, although experts say the market has cooled due to the work-from-home trend and concerns about crime downtown.
Associated's South Loop site would be well-suited for multifamily housing because it is very close to downtown and has frontage along the river, said Ron DeVries, senior managing director at research firm Integra Realty Resources. He also said that the housing will be built in phases and will not hit the market all at once.
“This is something that will not be developed in the next five years,” DeVries said. “This has a long horizon.”
The downtown market gained about 3,000 new residential units in 2023, with another 3,500 expected this year, DeVries said. After 2024, potential new supply will decline significantly, he said.
Almost all of the construction is intended for rental apartments. Analysts report that apartment development has slowed to a crawl except for the limited market for multi-million-dollar units.
Meanwhile, hotels have seen a post-pandemic rebound in tourism and business meetings. A new hotel at The 78 could benefit from that and the big events at McCormick Place.
Related's ambitious plans raise questions about whether it will work well with the Discovery Partners Institute, planned on the southern section of the property near 15th and Wells streets. Jackson said he has seen the site plan and insists it all fits in with his institute.
“We don't have a problem with it. It provides the infrastructure we need regardless,” Jackson said.
The institute plans to establish a $250 million complex aimed at bringing together academics and researchers with investors, with the aim of launching new businesses. Jackson said it will not be a new campus for Iowa State University, but rather an extension of the university that will promote “equitable economic development.”
Construction is scheduled to begin later this year, with completion in 2026.
Another source described U. of I. as “very excited” about the plan set in stone for the stadium.
“If you talked about why a child would want to go to school and why a professor would want to teach in a school and you put him in an environment like the one that will be created at The 78, it will be that way,” the source said. Making it one of the leading schools in the country immediately.
I give birth. Pat Doyle, whose third ward includes The 78's, emerged from a meeting Friday with Related Midwest saying she believes the proposed Sox stadium “could be a positive anchor for the new 78's community.”
“Assuming the financial details can be worked out, this development shows promise as a growth opportunity for Chicago. Adding great markets, affordable housing, retail, a world-class baseball stadium and a concert venue could be the kind of catalytic investment this city needs,” Doyle said in a statement. .
Doyle, the former city planner, warned that the planning process was “very early” and that “a number of concerns” needed to be addressed. They include “traffic impact” on Roosevelt Road and 18th Street, security and “quality of life issues” that include concert noise and “pedestrian access to the neighborhood.”
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