The proposed soccer stadium at Lincoln Yards is almost certainly not happening.
The Chicago Tribune reported yesterday that 2nd Ward Alderman Brian Hopkins would not support the Lincoln Yards project in its current form, citing the impact on traffic in the area.
Ald. Hopkins told the Tribune that he was skeptical of the developers’ plans to reduce congestion around Lincoln Yards.
“Sterling Bay wants the opportunity to present the results of their own traffic analysis, which they believe can show compatibility of a 20,000-seat soccer stadium and the surrounding traffic infrastructure in the neighborhood,” Ald. Hopkins said. “Right now, I just don’t see it.”
For these kind of major development proposals, the Alderman with jurisdiction would need to sign off before it’s brought to a vote on the floor of the Chicago City Council. Ald. Hopkins’ rejection of the stadium proposal would amount to a death sentence.
This morning, Sterling Bay released a statement saying they would rework their Lincoln Yards proposal in response to feedback from Ald. Hopkins and 2nd Ward residents— and that the soccer stadium would not be part of the equation.
“While much of the feedback has been positive,” the statement read, “Ald. Hopkins and residents have been very clear: they do not want a stadium. And we want to say: we heard you loud and clear. We have removed the stadium and broken up the entertainment district, allowing for assorted smaller venues throughout Lincoln Yards where all independent music operators will have the opportunity to participate.”
Sterling Bay announced in late 2017 that they were launching a new USL franchise in Chicago, and that they would be building a 20,000 seat soccer specific stadium for the new club as part of their broader Lincoln Yards development plan. Early in the development, Lincoln Yards was part of Chicago’s bid for Amazon’s second headquarters. The internet giant ultimately decided to open new headquarters in New York and Northern Virginia.
The USL project continued to gain steam through 2018, bolstered by the announcement that Chicago Cubs owner and chairman Tom Ricketts had purchased a majority stake in the franchise.
But the Lincoln Yards project ran into vocal opposition from 2nd Ward residents and other concerned stakeholders throughout Chicago. Apart from traffic management and concerns over green public space, a number of Chicago residents were angered by news that the City would plunk down $800 million in TIF funding at a time when public schools and mental health clinics are being closed. The use of TIF funding will likely be a key issue in next month’s municipal election. (Ald. Hopkins will be running unopposed to retain his seat, while Mayor Rahm Emanuel will not seek re-election.)
Independent music venues and promoters have also spoken out against the Lincoln Yard project, with the volume of opposition raising after speculation arose that the future of beloved North Side venue The Hideout would be in jeopardy.
So what does this mean for the Chicago USL project? It’s difficult to say. If Ricketts and Sterling Bay are truly invested in bringing a USL team to Chicago and establish a presence in the city’s thriving soccer community— and providing a viable alternative for disaffected Chicago Fire fans— they would have a number of options for a new stadium site. There are likely also some pre-existing venues that could serve as a home for Chicago USL, at least on a temporary basis.
If, however, the new team only provided an excuse to build a stadium and music venue, then this new development likely spells the end of the Chicago USL project.
UPDATE: Per the Tribune, Tom Ricketts is no longer involved as a majority stakeholder in the Chicago USL franchise.
A spokesperson for the Ricketts family released this statement:
“The Ricketts family’s potential involvement was focused on the soccer team and contingent on city approvals. While we are disappointed the concept is no longer included in the master plan, we understand the ambitious Lincoln Yards project needs to move forward.”
Meanwhile, USL spokesperson Ryan Madden said the league is committed to bringing a new team to Chicago— and made a veiled swipe at the Fire.
“We remain committed to bringing a USL franchise to downtown Chicago,” Madden said. “Stadium projects are of course inherently complicated, but there is a huge appetite for professional soccer in Chicago and we look forward to working with Sterling Bay to deliver a club— and stadium— that the community can rally around and be proud of.”