Metra supports huge Chicago proposal for One Central development

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Developers of the proposed $20 billion One Central complex on railroad air rights west of Soldier Field have received a show of support from a public agency that stands to gain something from the project.

In an emailed statement, Metra confirmed it has agreed to a memorandum of understanding with Landmark Development as to how the company would rebuild–at its expense–the Metra rail yard and maintenance facility that would be decked over for the project.

“Metra views this proposal as a golden opportunity to fund and build a long-overdue and much-needed improvement to its yard and facilities,” the agency said. “The design, construction and financing of this new Metra infrastructure and transit center is proposed to be undertaken by Landmark . . . (with) no capital commitment from Metra.”

The commuter rail agency is not endorsing the project now, the statement continued, but is “excited by the potential benefits.” 

Metra’s statement was the first significant indication that local transit officials see value in Landmark’s proposal, which is dependent on receiving $6.5 billion in state financing.

That money specifically would be spent on building a huge parking lot and transportation center that would be used by both Metra and the Chicago Transit Authority, with potentially a link to Amtrak trains. Ownership of the center eventually would be turned over to the state, but its construction would spare Landmark costs it otherwise would have to bear itself and contribute to the decking platform that eventually will result in 23.3 million square feet of planned commercial, residential, park and related construction.

News of the Metra memo came at a Crain’s Editorial Board meeting today at which Landmark head Bob Dunn sought to counter arguments that, at a time of fiscal stress, the state has higher priorities than funding an unproven project over 20 years.

Describing the rail yards as “a terribly underused site” despite its prime location near the lakefront and McCormick Place and just south of the Loop, Dunn said his company still believes in the project despite the COVID-19 economic downturn, and has sought to amplify its case with a series of consulting and economic analysis studies. Among other things, he said, those studies show the development will spin off $151 billion in economic development to the city and state in coming decades if it is built as planned.

Dunn has run into lots of skeptics. For instance, after new details about the project were released at a public hearing in January, Gov. J.B. Pritzker strongly suggested he’s leaning against any state financing. 

At a time when COVID is impacting Illinois’ finances, “It would be a challenge for any state to provide the significant amount this developer is seeking,” the governor’s office said in a statement in January. “The state faces tremendous challenges and our efforts will focus on rebuilding in the aftermath of the pandemic, supporting residents hardest hit by the disease and helping small businesses get back on their feet." His office had no comment today.

Dunn said he’s not had further conversations with Pritzker, and instead has been refining his plan and detailing its benefits. “We’re in the early innings,” he said.

But Metra now clearly is interested. Rebuilding the railyard will save the agency “hundreds of millions of dollars,” Dunn said.

A copy of the memorandum was not immediately made available.

The CTA also may have some interest—or at least no objections. Dunn said he plans to enter into a preliminary engineering agreement with the city transit agency to study building a spur line to the transportation center from the Green Line, which runs several blocks to the west.

CTA had no immediate comment.

Also quiet lately is Ald. Pat Dowell, in whose 3rd Ward the 31-acre project would be located. Reached by phone today, Dowell said she still has no position on the proposal and referred me to a letter the city Department of Planning & Development wrote last month which “raised a lot of questions” about the proposal, but neither opposed nor supported it.

Dunn said he has had conversations with U.S. Department of Transportation officials about potential federal funding and believes his proposal would qualify for some programs, but said no agreement has been reached.

via Crain’s Chicago Business https://ift.tt/1mywUHL

March 9, 2021 at 04:15PM

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