Ben Joravsky, as usual, brings an interesting perspective to his discussion of the ongoing debate over the future use of Wilson Yard [The Works, April 29]. But there is more to say about this deal than was revealed in the article.

To begin with a small point. Wilson Yard is indeed a very eccentric site: wedge-shaped, bounded on one side by the CTA Red Line, confined on two other sides by buildings. For any commercial developer, this parcel would be a real headache in terms of automobile access and parking. To suggest that the CTA’s selling price for Wilson Yard is too low based on more or less random comparisons with other sites in the vicinity is highly speculative. And by failing to examine the zoning constraints on the parcels under discussion, Joravsky and his informants further tug their site-comparison exercise into the realm of fantasy.

And so what if the CTA divests itself of an awkwardly configured property with the aim of producing affordable housing? What the CTA sacrifices is anticipated revenue, not money in the bank, which is just what the city does in its countless TIF districts across Chicago. My guess is that contemporary government innovation gurus such as David Osborne and Ted Gaebler (Reinventing Government) would brand the CTA’s action as something like “progressive public sector entrepreneurial stewardship.”

The proposed Peter Holsten development at Wilson Yard will yield two ten-story buildings, one affordable senior housing, the second affordable “family” housing. Critics of the proposal suggest that this contradicts Mayor Daley’s “mixed-income” philosophy of affordable-housing production. But the fact is, just across Montrose Avenue from the Wilson Yard site a multistory market-rate condominium complex has recently opened its doors. And just to the east, between Broadway and Sheridan Road on the old Buena Memorial Church site, a market-rate town-house complex is in the advance-sales phase of development. So does mixed-income have to mean “within your building,” or can it mean “within your immediate neighborhood environment”?

Finally, some of Joravsky’s informants suggest that the Wilson Yard project has legs due to a behind-the-scenes deal between Mayor Daley and a former foe, 46th Ward alderman Helen Shiller. Helen Shiller has been on the City Council for nearly two decades, so her bona fides as a card-carrying revolutionary probably are compromised. But we should also consider this irony: in countless local elections in the last 40 years, political insurgents have been branded as impractical bomb tossers. And the reason to stick with your rock-steady Democratic Party mediocrity is because he/she can get things done. Here’s the headline I wish the Reader had run with Ben Joravsky’s story: “Insider Deal Produces Much-Needed Affordable Housing in Desirable Neighborhood Setting.” Now that represents a new chapter in the unfolding saga of Chicago politics.

Larry Bennett


Ben Joravsky replies:

Developers have been building slivers of upscale housing right next to the Brown and Red lines for over a decade. The way to end speculation about the land’s value is to put it up for sale on the open market and see how much it commands. The CTA hasn’t done that. It won’t even release its internal appraisals.