Developer Bob Dunn is upping the economic equity ante on his proposed One Central megaproject, promising nearly half a billion dollars in unrelated South Side investments and rolling out an endorsement from a major civil rights organization.
In a Zoom call with Dunn, Karen Freeman-Wilson, president and CEO of the Chicago Urban League, said her group has decided to endorse Dunn’s proposed $20 billion mixed-used project on railroad air rights just west of Soldier Field as “transformative” to a long-neglected part of the city.
Freeman-Wilson said she’s doing so in part because of Dunn’s commitment to invest in the greater South Side outside of his own project.
Included according to the two: $400 million in equity over 20 years for low-income housing and economic developments that Dunn asserts will be a solid investment once One Central is up and running; $30 million for a proposed tech high school that could be within One Central, and $50 million in working capital plus insurance for small minority-owned firms that get contracts to work on the transportation/retail/residential complex.
One Central itself will funnel at least 30% of construction work to minority-owned businesses and 10% to businesses owned by women.
Freeman-Wilson said she “frankly was skeptical” about One Central when she first met with Dunn a year ago. But the developing plans have convinced her that the project has merit, she added, saying the organization now will begin actively lobbying Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Mayor Lori Lightfoot to approve it.
Dunn also disclosed further findings from a study by AECOM, an infrastructure consulting firm, that found the project eventually would create 68,000 jobs on site and 70,000 elsewhere on the South Side.
Those, however, are just projections. The promise of a half a billion dollars in other South Side investments could be written into Dunn’s request for city zoning approval and $6.5 billion from the state to purchase the transportation center that would be at the heart of the project.
Dunn did not say where he’d get the money, but he has identified One Central equity partners including Chicago’s Loop Capital and Ullico, a union-backed investment firm.
Dunn clearly has decided to hit the equity note hard in appealing to Lightfoot, who has made attracting new investment to the South and West sides a centerpiece of her administration.
Last month in another meeting Dunn strongly pushed the argument that his transit center—the one the state eventually would purchase under his plan—would make it much easier for South Siders to get jobs in the fast-growing downtown area by allowing them to quickly transfer from Metra Electric trains to the Chicago Transit Authority’s Green Line.
Lightfoot later said Dunn’s initial plan has “morphed” and now is “interesting.”
Dunn said he expects to file his formal zoning application “late in October or early in November.”