Live Nation Plans For Lincoln Yards Anger Small Venue Owners — But Development Not A ‘Done Deal,’ Alderman Says

“As venue owners we are collectively in conversation about this; it is now directly targeted at our livelihood and we will act,” one club owner said.

l-r: Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd), Ald. Joe Moreno (1st), Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) at Goddess and Grocer for the Wicker Park Bucktown Chamber of Commerce’s State of the Wards. [Block Club Chicago/Alisa Hauser]

WICKER PARK — Alds. Joe Moreno, Brian Hopkins and Scott Waguespack, whose 1st, 2nd and 32nd wards cover Wicker Park and Bucktown, answered hard-hitting questions from local business owners during “State of the Wards” on Thursday.

Organized by the Wicker Park Bucktown Chamber of Commerce, about 50 chamber members and Executive Director Pamela Maas gathered at Goddess and Grocer, 1649 N. Damen Ave.

Listen and check out more highlights from the meeting below.

State of the Wards sponsored by the Wicker Park Bucktown Chamber of Commerce [Block Club/Alisa Hauser]

Lincoln Yards’ Live Nation-Tied Venues Create Unfair Playing Field, Business Owner Says

Subterranean owner Robert Gomez, center, asks Ald. Brian Hopkins about the proposed Lincoln Yards development, which could negatively impact other clubs if new music venues are approved for the Riverside district. [Block Club/Alisa Hauser]

Robert Gomez, owner of Subterranean, a music venue at 2011 W. North Ave., expressed concerns about the impact a proposed new entertainment district in ‘Lincoln Yards’ at the former A. Finkl & Sons steel plant would have on the city’s existing venues.

“I can handle competition, we’ve been around a long time. What I can’t handle is the city funding and backing Live Nation to have exclusive rights to venues that are being built on their behalf. Now that [plans and renderings published by Crain’s] doesn’t get out there by accident, these people are making way too much money and have too much money behind them to just accidentally release that. It’s a test of the pulse of the city, I get that. Where do we go from here? What’s the advice on how we respond to that?” Gomez asked the aldermen.

Hopkins said that the Lincoln Yards plan needs to be formally introduced, and vetted through a community process. No venue plan is set in stone, he said.

Listen to responses from Hopkins and Waguespack:

After the meeting, Gomez said he was not satisfied with Hopkins’ response.

“What he is trying to sell us on is ‘believe in the process,’ but that’s all done Downtown, and what they decide down there is what happens. The rest of it is just for show,” Gomez said. “As venue owners we are collectively in conversation about this; it is now directly targeted at our livelihood and we will act. Just about every major operator with a capacity of over 200 has been looped into this conversation.”

Lincoln Yards Not Ready For Public Input

A rendering of a soccer stadium and music club pitched for Lincoln Yards. [Lincoln Yards website]

Hopkins said he has not made a decision on whether he supports Lincoln Yards. Sterling Bay leaders aim to present plans for the massive project to the public in the next 30 days, he said.

“There is a lot of skepticism surrounding this process. People don’t have a lot of faith in government anymore. I keep hearing the words ‘done deal’ and that’s disturbing to me,” Hopkins said. “I need people to believe that they can have an impact on this.”

I keep hearing the words ‘done deal’ and that’s disturbing to me.” — Ald. Brian Hopkins on Lincoln Yards

If everything goes as planned, the development of the industrial land at the border of Lincoln Park and Bucktown would create a new riverside neighborhood with restaurants, hotels, up to five music venues and a soccer stadium. The plan also calls for a long-discussed extension of the elevated ‘606’ path over the river.

Pause Transit-Orientated Developments At Tipping Point: Alderman

Wicker Park is “ground zero” for a crop of higher density developments that have sprouted up along Milwaukee Avenue, Moreno said. After listening to concerns from Wicker Park Committee members, he said it’s time to “hit the pause button.”

Moreno said the impact of new units on the already congested Blue Line CTA trains needs to be analyzed through a year-long study before any new projects get started.

Moreno later clarified the pause button would not apply to any already vetted proposals that have been discussed at public meetings.

“I deferred the one on Division [Street] and told the developer he needs to go back and look at reductions,” Moreno said.

Rendering of a proposed 16-story, 121-unit apartment tower at 1628 W. Division St. Though the plan got the green light from the Plan Commission in April, Moreno said he has asked the city to defer the project for now.

‘Fantastic’ 606 Impact, Prepare For Busier Cortland Street

Even at 7 am. on a Tuesday, The 606’s Bloomingdale Trail is hopping. [Block Club Chicago/Alisa Hauser]

Save for “a few cyclists who think they are in the Tour de France,” Waguespack described the impact of the elevated Bloomingdale Trail on the neighborhood as “fantastic.” Lots of children and families utilize the path and the small pocket parks along the trail, he said.

“[The 606] has improved the ability of businesses to bring people into their shops,” Waguespack said.

Cortland Street will have a lot more traffic as the North Branch [of the river] “gets built up,” Waguespack predicted.

“As you look to get in and out of Bucktown and Wicker Park, that is going to have an impact on your travels, everything from deliveries to getting customers in,” Waguespack told business owners.

What Is Being Done About Empty Storefronts?

An empty storefront, formerly home to Feast which closed 1–1/2 years ago. [Block Club Chicago/Alisa Hauser]

Hopkins said vacant storefronts are a concern in the neighborhood and he partly blames “unrealistic expectations from landlords who haven’t fully caught up to the reality of this post-Amazon world.”

“There are no more Blockbuster videos or anything like that. You can only have so many yoga studios and nail salons. The demand is declining. We as aldermen can’t do anything about it, that’s the larger market forces at play. What we can do is try to help our landlords understand they need to put the lights on. They are better off having a tenant in that space receiving less than what they would like to receive,” Hopkins said.

Divided Reactions To Protected Bike Lanes

A cyclist passes a pedestrian zone further protected by newly installed concrete planters at Milwaukee and Wabansia. [Block Club Chicago]

Meanwhile, all three aldermen contributed money from ward menu funds to pay for ongoing traffic improvements along the Milwaukee Avenue corridor. The money was matched by the Chicago Department of Transportation, which is one year into a 3-year ‘Vision Zero’ Action Plan to make the streets safer.

“Some of these new ideas are going to be upsetting but if you look back they do have a good impact. The fact we are cutting off some of the right turns and are trying to get people, as they are driving, to focus more on the pedestrians and the cyclists, it will have a much greater safety impact in years to come,” Waguespack said.

In response to a question from a reader on Twitter, who asked if parking lanes could be removed in some cases to make room for bike lanes, Moreno said there is no money right now to do that and “it’s not even on the table.”

“It’s tough on Milwaukee. I’ve said before I would totally support a protected bike lane. Milwaukee Avenue is difficult because of its [narrow] width. With the question of ‘do you want to remove parking,’ some are advocating absolutely no, others are advocating absolutely yes. I personally think a protected bike lane would be excellent for Milwaukee Avenue but the parking has to be looked at. There has been no decision made. That’s going to be a continued conversation,” Moreno said.