The fate of two major downtown development projects may hinge on whether Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, is willing to vote for both.
At an unusually heated meeting of the city's Economic Development Committee Wednesday night, a clash became evident between Fiske, who favors plans for an office building on the city-owned library parking lot, and Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, who supports plans for a rental apartment development at 831 Emerson St.
At Monday's City Council meeting, Rainey, who is generally pro-development, had joined the prevailing side on a 6-2 vote to kill -- at least temporarily -- the library lot project.
Wednesday, when Fiske tried to seek support for the project from the Economic Development Committee, Rainey made clear that Fiske's decision a week earlier to vote against the 831 Emerson development in a preliminary 5-3 vote on that proposal was the reason why.
"This is a fabulous project that people have worked very hard on" for six months, Rainey said of the library lot development at 1714-1720 Chicago Ave.
"But there's another project that's been in the works for over two years," she said.
The owner of that property, at 831 Emerson, Rainey said, is part of a family that has owned the business there for maybe 60 years, hired minorities, almost exclusively, and put the children of many of those employees through college.
"These people now are almost broke because of the time and effort spent trying to appease the neighbors," Rainey said. "And the neighbors now, with the exception of three or four people, are pretty much on board with the project."
"And yet you," Rainey said, addressing Fiske, "almost ruined their lives that night" by voting against the nine-story apartment project.
Developer Bruce Larson of the team behind the library lot proposal.
Caught in the middle are the developers of the two projects.
Bruce Larson from the development team behind the library lot project told the Economic Development Committee his proposal would produce $1.5 million a year in property taxes for the city on a site that now yields no tax revenue.
And the projected 544 new workers in the office building, he said, would generate $4.3 million a year in new spending in the local economy.
Tim Anderson, the would-be developer of the 831 Emerson site, on Monday sought and received from the City Council a postponement of a final vote on his project.
With the arrival of three new aldermen on the Council next month, the prospects for both developments remain murky.
831 Emerson requires a two-thirds vote of the aldermen for approval because of development allowances requested for the project. The library lot project, because it involves the sale of city property, will need a two-thirds vote.
Under City Council rules, any alderman who voted on the prevailing side in Monday's vote to deny the city manager authorization to negotiate a sales contract for the library lot property can move to reconsider that vote.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to indicate the two-thirds vote required to approve the 831 Emerson project.