- Terminal 2 at O'Hare International Airport.
- Lincoln Yards, Near North Side, $56-billion development.
- Obama Center's location in Jackson Park.
These are urgent actions that Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot should take if she wants to bore into the heart of the Chicago Way. These are three multi-billion-dollar projects that best exemplify how big money and big clout have fashioned Chicago, and not for the better.
O'Hare Terminal 2
If you want to zero in on the insider deal-making, the pinstripe and political patronage that fuels the Machine and the billions wasted on the biggest public works boondoggle in Chicago history, O'Hare International Airport is the place to do it.
The most glaring and the most ignored scandal is how Lightfoot's prior administrations poured at least $16 billion and probably more into the so-called O'Hare Modernization Program. Mayor Richard M. Daley announced the expansion to ballyhoos from special interests in 2001, promising it would cut delays at the nation's most despised airport by up to 90-some percent. It hasn't happened. Not even close.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel now tries to rectify the built-in OMP problems that came with trying to stuff a 21st-century airport into a too-small plot designed for 1960s air travel. His $8-billion (sure to go higher) new expansion is a classic case of good money wasted after bad.
For more on this, read, "While eyes are elsewhere, a stink radiates from O'Hare Airport"
Just like Emanuel tried to set in concrete the selection of an architect for the Terminal 2 reconstruction at O'Hare, he's trying to add Lincoln Yards to his legacy before he gives up his office to Lightfoot.
Tribune columnists John Kass and Eric Zorn both make good cases for delaying city approval of the TIF-funded project, which requires that Chicago lag a billion-dollar tax break to Sterling Bay to develop the project.
Maybe the entire deal is legit and clout had nothing to do with subsidizing Sterling Bay's grab of the city's most prime real estate. Still, the project falls on its own merits because it is suffocatingly dense for the already crowded neighborhood. The last thing that the area needs is more congestion and pollution.
The truth is that the city needs such a giant enterprise, but elsewhere, in a community that truly needs jobs and economic development. More than enough space is available in Chicago where it will do a lot of good. Just throw a dart at a map of the South and West sides. There it would go a long way to revitalize abandoned neighborhoods and where it would be an anchor for further development.
Speaking of a better, more beneficial location, the Obama Center in Jackson Park ought to be relocated, like Lincoln Yards, to a more beneficial, less controversial location where it too can become an anchor for neighborhood revitalization.
For further thoughts about why the center should be moved out of Jackson Park, read, "Will a progressive Mayor Lightfoot move the Obama Center out of Jackson Park?"
Lightfoot's long-term challenge and high priority of course is fixing Chicago's financial mess. Others have outlined the problems, here and here. But if its true that Chicago voters, fed up with the corruption, scheming and back-room dealing, want a New Chicago Way, then Lightfoot's most immediate task is to at least slow down these Terrible Threes for a better, more dispassionate look.
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