Wisconsin developer fumbles the ball as his One Central end-around doesn’t play well with South Loop residents and local representatives
August 2, 2019

Wisconsin developer Bob Dunn of Landmark Development certainly got off on the wrong foot with his grandiose plans to create One Central, a massive residential and commercial development he wants to build on a platform over the current Metra tracks in the South Loop. Dunn might have been thinking he could do his political end-around as easily as Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been able to do against previous average Chicago Bears defenses. Well, the Bears “D” heading into 2019-2020 is a much better version than in past years, and we will have to see how this upcoming season will play out for Rodgers’ Packers versus the Bears.

We will also be watching carefully to see if and how Dunn’s One Central plan progresses downfield with the powers that be in the decision-making process.

Dunn must have been paying close attention to how the game is played in Chicago and Illinois politics when he did his recent end-around Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Third Ward Alderman Pat Dowell, State Senator Robert Peters, and State Representative Kambium Buckner and then ran his football all the way to Springfield to get help for One Central from Governor JB Pritzker and the Illinois Legislature, seemingly contingent on whether he could get Federal funds lined up for the transportation hub portion of the development.

He also got off on the wrong foot with South Loop residents, who as you could imagine, didn’t appreciate his underhanded approach of not being transparent with them in community meetings that led up to his “quarterback sneak” to ask JB and the legislature to slip $3.8 billionaire dollars into SB 1814. This angered the South Loop community so much that it has created the South Loop Concerned Coalition, a fledging organization representing some 18,000 taxpaying residents that’s growing by the day.

Kudos to SLCC for beginning to wage a strong fight to make what could be a mega-development a more modest, livable community for those who already call South Loop their home and will have to bear the brunt of whatever Dunn and Landmark get to build over the Metra tracks.

Gee whiz, does anyone ever think of how those already living in our communities will be affected when developers with dollar signs rolling around in their eyes come swarming into our neighborhoods? The communities certainly didn’t fare too well under the Richard M. Daley and Rahm Emanuel administrations. We hope Mayor Lightfoot will change this unfair pattern of developers winning 75% of the time or more over the community, no matter how large or small the development—because size doesn’t matter when developers and politicians meet in smoke-filled back rooms. When there is money to be made, density, height, and impact bear little weight. As SLCC’s Joan Lovell said of the process, “It seems rushed, without due diligence for the livability, shadowing, and traffic.” Where have we heard this before? During the 37 year history of Gazette Chicago—only about a thousand or so times. That’s why we keep fighting for you—local residents.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot blasted the developer for going to Springfield to try to slip funding for the transit hub into the State of Illinois capital bill, prompting Governor JB Pritzker’s spokesperson Jordan Abudayyeh to tell Gazette Chicago there is no deal, that the State’s involvement is just to pave the way for the developer to try to obtain Federal funding. We have seen Governor Pritzker make a few missteps since taking office—that is to be expected. But this? This really reeked of insensitivity and outright disrespect to the South Loop community, Mayor Lightfoot, and the area’s other elected officials.

The concept of a development over the Metra tracks in the South Loop is not a bad one. The tracks are unattractive, and covering them up with One Central, a development that would include not only residential and commercial spaces but much needed green space and parking, could be a boon to the area if the size and scope were within the scale of the surrounding community.

Instead the developer, Landmark Development, appears to want buildings so tall that they will blot out the Sun in the surrounding area. This was a joke on the Simpsons TV show in 1995 when evil Montgomery Burns wanted to build a device to blot out the Sun; now it appears someone actually wants to do it in the real world. Wonder how the McCaskey family, the Chicago Bears coaches and players, and fans feel about playing their football games at Soldier Field on a blissful fall Sunday afternoon in complete shade? Guess the Chicago Park District will have to turn the lights on for those noon and 3 p.m. kick-offs. Can we get Landmark Development to foot that bill?

Another problem is the proposed transit hub, which DePaul University transportation expert professor Joseph Schweiterman has pointed out, nobody actually wants. “Proponents of the One Central transit hub have not obtained even an informal expression of interest, much less formal support, from a prominent public body,” he said, noting that, on top of that lack of official interest, the transit hub “would be separated from all of the Loop district’s jobs” and that transferring between transit lines would not work “unless significant parts of our existing system were completely reconfigured.”

So along with blotting out the Sun, One Central would create a transit hub that is both unneeded and unworkable.

Dunn, meanwhile, is speaking to the media through a public relations firm. Perhaps negotiations with the community would fare better with direct communications instead. He fumbled the football once. By not speaking directly to the community and the media, he just fumbled a second time and is showing even more signs why the South Loop residents should have a difficult time trusting him.

Kudos also once again to Alderman Pat Dowell, who is ensuring engagement of residents through a series of community meetings and emphasizing that no decisions have been made. Mayor Lightfoot also is offering some assurances.

Gazette Chicago is calling for One Central, if it ever gets off the ground, to be on a much smaller scale, with components that would actually work for the South Loop community. Once plans can show that One Central can benefit the community, we will join with the SLCC, Mayor Lightfoot, Alderman Dowell, and others to give it a second look. But, there is no need to rush it—the Metra tracks are not going away. If Dunn and Landmark Development need to sit tight and wait while they go back to the drawing board for a plan that is more digestible, so be it. Or, Mr. Dunn can look back north of the border and build something of such a grand scale up there. Maybe near the Foxconn plant? They might not need any Sun over there as they siphon away tax dollars from Wisconsin residents and pollute our shared waterways and air.

We urge the community and our elected officials to keep fighting to get the developer to create a better plan, and we urge the developer to listen to the community and to the experts and remove the plan’s most objectionable components. We also hope other local alderman will take heed of SLCC’s actions as they consider new developments in their communities. We at Gazette Chicago admire and support more and more residents who are willing to speak up for quality of life issues in their neighborhoods in our coverage area and all across this City.

Smaller buildings that would not blot out the Sun and transportation that actually benefits the community would be a good start in the South Loop. If not, maybe Coach Matt Nagy could bring his vaunted Chicago Bears defense to the next One Central community meeting and show Landmark Development just how tough we are here in Chicago.