LINCOLN PARK — Developer Sterling Bay on Wednesday released ambitious plans for the former Finkl Steel site in a clear bid to lure the proposed new Amazon headquarters to Chicago's North Branch Industrial Corridor.
Calling it Lincoln Yards, the company named a design team including major players CBT out of Boston and local SOM of Chicago, as well as Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates for landscape architecture and Nelson\Nygaard for transportation issues.
Renderings showed an ambitious development totally re-envisioning the bleak area along the North Branch Industrial Corridor developers hope will draw Amazon's announced new second major headquarters to Chicago.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel already has made Amazon a priority.
"Lincoln Yards is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to transform an underutilized area of the city into a neighborhood built for the modern needs of Chicagoans,” said Andy Gloor of Sterling Bay. “This team has unparalleled experience and unique expertise in managing successful projects of a similar scale both here in Chicago and around the world, as well as a shared vision that will allow the neighborhood to realize its full potential.
"This vision includes creating new open space, improving the access to the Chicago River, extending the 606 and creating other features that will enhance everyday experiences, build healthy communities and improve the quality of life for Chicagoans and visitors alike," Gloor added.
With its emphasis on extending the 606 trail and on a new Metra station, the project follows the blueprint of the North Branch Industrial Corridor framework plan endorsed earlier this year by the city. Lincoln Yards boasts more than 30 acres and a close connection to the neighboring areas of Lincoln Park and Bucktown.
Sterling Bay even envisions a new Metra stop for the Lincoln Yards development. (Sterling Bay)
"It is rare to find a site of this magnitude in a great American city with such strong assets as the Lincoln Park and Bucktown neighborhoods, the Chicago River and the 606,” said Kishore Varanasi, director of urban design at CBT, which has also done major developments, including NorthPoint in Cambridge, Mass.
“Currently disconnected by infrastructural barriers and industrial uses, Lincoln Yards presents an opportunity to create a place that is vibrant and engages the surrounding communities through a combination of careful and bold moves that opens the riverfront to all Chicagoans."
Chicago-based SOM, meanwhile, worked on the master plans for Millennium Park and Lakeshore East. Douglas Voigt, a partner at SOM, called Lincoln Yards "a huge step forward in the growing citywide effort to make the Chicago River a place defined by ecological, social and economic vibrancy,” saying it offered "an unprecedented opportunity to bring people back to the river and reinterpret Chicago’s industrial heritage to meet the current and future needs of Chicagoans."
Critics such as 43rd Ward Ald. Michele Smith and various community groups have suggested, however, that the development might overtax public lands like Oz Park. And other local residents have charged that the North Branch framework plan was based on Sterling Bay's aspirations for the area, not vice versa.
Ald. Brian Hopkins, whose 2nd Ward actually includes the Finkl Steel site, said he is "committed to a community-driven planned development process regardless of who the prospective tenants will be."
"This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity is sure to yield visionary and iconic designs, but no concepts will be considered for approval before Sterling Bay presents formalized proposals to our office, local residents and the impacted communities," said Hopkins spokesman Christian Ficara. "We look forward to engaging with all parties in a transparent process, and determining key community benefits within each development, including new park space, improved infrastructure and mitigated traffic congestion."
Sterling Bay closed on the Finkl Steel sale late last year, and has also scooped up other available properties on the river's north branch, including the city's fleet management lot at 1685 N. Throop St.
"The selection of the master-planning team is the first of many important steps for the overall project,” Gloor said, adding that he pledged community involvement “as the development plans move forward."