Developer goes to the state to avoid city deal


The rail yard that would house the controversial One Central development can be seen beyond Soldier Field in this image looking west. (Image: Marco Verch, Flickr)

South of The Loop in Chicago, a developer is eyeing the rail yard across from Soldier Field as the site for the city’s next mega development. The project, called One Central, has been the talk of the town and is in the middle of big discussions about what role the developer, the city, and the state play in building a major transit hub.

One Central is massive; it includes up to 12 mixed-use skyscrapers on 34 acres of prime land, costs some $20 billion, and will take a decade to complete. Part of the reason for the great expense is the need to put a cap over the Metra commuter rail tracks to support development. But according to a report commissioned by the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, the project would bring an estimated $120 billion for the city over the next 40 years in taxes and transit revenues if completed.

A major sticking point for the project between the developer and new Mayor Lori Lightfoot has been the $3.8 billion transit hub included in the plans that would serve Metra, Amtrak, CTA, and a proposed circulator service around the waterfront. The Mayor has said she will limit the use of TIFs in the future and questioned whether a transit hub at this location was a priority given other transportation needs.

This led the developer to ask the state for a deal: the developer would front the cash for the transportation hub and keep a portion of the revenues generated until they recoup the upfront cost over a 20 year period, at which point the state would retain ownership. However, the city would still need to approve zoning variances to accommodate One Central as currently planned.

At this juncture the debate is far from settled, but it has brought forward many interesting ideas for financing large transportation infrastructure needs including the state’s involvement in this major redevelopment project. For more information on infrastructure finance, check out to find more reports including the EPA’s Infrastructure Financing Options for Transit-Oriented Development.

What’s new on the pod?

Charlotte established TOD zoning in light rail station areas before their Blue line light rail opened in 2007. But after a decade of development, planners noted some improvements were in order. For starters, the old one-size-fits-all policy wasn’t meeting the markets where they were at. At some stations, the zoning didn’t allow enough height or density while at others there was demand for less intense development. Second, the city needed better standards for the street-levels of buildings that would create active uses and better screen parking. So the city set out to create new TOD zoning rules that would fit the market as we hear on this month’s episode of Building Better Communities with Transit. Catch this episode on Soundcloud, Stitcher, iTunes, Overcast or wherever you get your podcasts.

Recent TOD news

Here are a few things that have been happening this week with TOD projects across the country.