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Uptown’s Wilson Yard Continues to Get No Love

By Hunter Clauss in News on Dec 4, 2008 9:10PM

wy.jpgThe long and heated battle over the Wilson Yard development in Uptown continues as a group of residents sues the city, which they accuse of improperly dolling out $51 million in subsidies to the site’s developer. The group, Fix Wilson Yard Inc., takes to task the city’s claim that the site would never have been developed without some funding from tax-increment financing. “It’s a developer’s dream to have that large of an undeveloped parcel in the city,” said Molly Phelan, president Fix Wilson Yard Inc., to Crain’s Chicago Business. “There’s no reason to use TIF funds to have a developer come in and develop this site.”

So far, the plan for Wilson Yard, a six-acre lot north of Broadway and Montrose, includes a Target store and 178 affordable housing units, which doesn’t gel right with some residents who hoped the site would be open to more commercial space. Some opponents have also criticized the number of affordable housing units by saying it concentrates too many low-income people in one spot. But supporters say those are all smokescreen arguments to mask the real issue--gentrification. Uptown has traditionally been a haven for the poor, offering numerous standing-room-occupancy hotels and subsidized housing. But the area has seen an influx of young professionals who are taking advantage of the low rents and affordable home prices.

The area’s City Council member, Ald. Helen Shiller, has been the project’s biggest supporter. Shiller was an ally of former Chicago Mayor Harold Washington during the Council Wars and helped provide services to low-income people in her ward. As the demographic of the 46th Ward continues to change, Shiller has found herself between two different groups that want two completely different things. For some, Wilson Yard represents that rift, which was on full display during the 2007 aldermanic race. Shiller came under fire for her stance on the Wilson Yard project by her opponent, James Cappleman, who favored reopening community input to revise the development plan. In the end, Cappleman lost the election by 700 votes.

Like Gen. Custer in the Battle of Little Bighorn, this lawsuit could be the last stand for opponents to Wilson Yard. If the lawsuit doesn’t receive traction and the development is completed before the 2011 aldermanic elections, when someone else could step in and change everything, then it’s a done deal (if it isn’t already).

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