Alderman gets something in return for delaying North Branch land sale

Thursday, 12 October 2017, 02:52:56 PM. Ald. Brian Hopkins won more parkland for a congested North Side area that is about to absorb a lot more residents.

Squeaky wheels get oiled. Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) is living proof.

The City Council’s Committee on Housing and Real Estate on Tuesday approved Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to sell a fleet maintenance facility site on prime riverfront land in the North Branch Corridor to a developer who is not the highest bidder.

But not before Hopkins got something in return for holding up the $104.7 million sales to mega-developer Sterling Bay two weeks ago.

What Hopkins got for questioning the mayor’s decision to “leave $10 million on the table,” as he put it, was a substitute ordinance with a few more concessions for an already congested and park-starved North Side area that is about to absorb a dramatic influx of residents.

“We were able to get an additional two acres of park land as a requirement. It’ll be 12 acres, instead of 10. And we addressed the issue of contiguity,” Hopkins said. “When people heard that there was going to be a minimum of 10 acres of open space, there was some concern that it might be, for example, 10 1-acre lots scattered around. That isn’t what people wanted.”

Instead at least 6 acres must be all in one place.

Emanuel announced earlier this year that Sterling Bay had agreed to pay the city $104.7 million — $133.53 per square foot — for the lucrative site near the Chicago River, where city vehicles now are maintained.

The deal also requires Sterling Bay to build a new city maintenance facility in Englewood on property at 6800 S. Wentworth owned by and acquired from the City Colleges of Chicago.

What Emanuel failed to mention — and Hopkins later revealed — is that Sterling Bay was not the highest bidder. ONNI Group offered $115 million for the prime piece of property.

Planning and Development spokesman Peter Strazzabosco has said ONNI’s higher bid was “dependent on variables that have yet to be determined over an extended time period and could be subject to significant change, purchase price risk and negotiation.”

Two weeks after questioning the decision to bypass the highest bidder, Hopkins accepted the city’s explanation.

“The reason is the lack of zoning contingencies. The speed with which the second-highest bidder was willing to close. And also, the fact that the second-highest bidder already has land surrounding the site they’re acquiring,” the alderman said.

Still, Hopkins plans to introduce an amendment to the “public asset transparency ordinance” to prevent similar controversies.

“I think we should lower the threshold to $100 million. Had this ordinance applied to this real estate transaction, the process would have involved the public at a much earlier point. There would have been greater transparency, greater scrutiny. I wouldn’t have had to have held this up in committee because there’s a public hearing that’s required if it’s in excess of $100 million,” Hopkins said.

Hopkins’ questions had the potential to throw a monkey wrench into Emanuel’s plan to build a $95 million public safety training campus in West Garfield Park to replace Chicago’s cramped and antiquated police and fire training academies.

The Community Development Commission and the City Council’s Zoning committee have authorized the city to acquire the 30.4 acre West Garfield Park site at 4301 W. Chicago Ave.

But the two-building training campus will be bankrolled, in part, by proceeds from the sale of the fleet maintenance facility site.

Without that transaction, the whole thing could have fallen apart. Now, it looks like smooth sailing, pending a final vote at Wednesday’s City Council meeting.

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