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Indie Live Venues Continue to Battle $6 Billion Chicago Development After Live Nation Exclusive Dropped

Chicago River Waterfront
Mlenny/Getty Images

Chicago River Waterfront

The proposed development will now include open green spaces for possible festival use.

Chicago Independent Venue League (CIVL) is continuing to protest a major $6 billion development in the city after the Chicago Plan Commission approved a revised proposal on Thursday (Jan. 24). The revised development plan by Sterling Bay passed on Thursday nixed the Live Nation-backed soccer stadium and multi-venue entertainment district, but independent venue owners in the city still consider the smattering of smaller venues in the development an issue.

"Live Nation does not have an exclusive deal with Sterling Bay anymore," co-owner of local venue The Hideout and co-chair of CIVL Katie Tuten tells Billboard. "They still will have the ability to program. There are still venues with 10,000 capacity for the other venues. There are two very large private parks owned by the developer, one of which has an amphitheater."

On Jan. 8, Chicago’s 2nd Ward alderman Brian Hopkins killed off the original plan for a 20,000-capacity soccer stadium and entertainment district controled by Live Nation that was submitted with plans back in May of 2018. As a result, CIVL banned together in November to oppose Live Nation’s involvement in Lincoln Yards.

Alderman Hopkins demanded earlier this month that the space earmarked for the stadium be utilized for open and recreational space. The formerly proposed Live Nation-controlled entertainment district "will be eliminated from a revised plan and replaced by restaurants, theaters, and smaller venues that will be scattered throughout the site."

The revised plan that was passed by the Chicago Plan Commission would still feature three to five smaller venues with an estimated combined capacity of 10,000, which CIVL believes will dilute a healthy music ecosystem already in place.

"We don’t believe that there is a need for additional venues,” Tuten says. “We have a very robust live music community as it stands now and all of our venues are within neighborhoods. We are economic engines for the neighborhoods, for the restaurants and such."

CIVL venues are scattered throughout the greater Chicago area with founding members from Beat Kitchen, Empty Bottle, G-Man Tavern, Lincoln Hall, Martyrs, Metro, The Promontory, Schuba’s, Sleeping Village, SmartBar, Subterranean, Thalia Hall and The Whistler.

"A lot of our venues do business with Live Nation, so they’re not necessarily against Live Nation," Tuten says, explaining that their fight continues even after the development’s exclusive with Live Nation has been eliminated.

"We are asking for more time to review and understand exactly what they are doing. Collectively between all of us, we have more than 100 years of experience, so why would they not call upon our institutional knowledge,” says Tuten.

CIVL’s next steps include plans to delay finance and zoning committee votes until after the Feb. 26 mayoral election in Chicago. Incumbent Mayor Rahm Emmanuel is not seeking a third term in the city and Tuten believes a new mayor will select different individuals to oversee both committees needed to move the development forward.

Tuten explains that CIVL hopes to have the votes delayed even further until the new mayor is sworn in and can revisit Mayor Emmanuel's plan to convince City Council to approve $1.7 billion in tax-increment-financing (TIF) subsidies for development, including up to $800 million designated for Lincoln Yards, according to Chicago Sun Times.

"We are seeing this (kind of development) happening across the country and we would like to have a music census, a city-wide survey to quantify the economic value of the existing music eco-system,” says Tuten. “We aren’t against development. We want responsible development.”

The Community Development Committee is currently scheduled to review the TIF on Feb. 19.

"What we are trying to say is, delay the vote, delay the TIF until after the elections," Tuten continues, adding that the local independent venues would like "a seat at the table."

Furthermore, Tuten says CIVL would like to have input on the update to the 2012 Chicago Cultural Plan that called for “effective cultural planning (that) is increasingly local and decentralized, embracing bottom-up planning at the neighborhood or community level.”

"None of us are against competition," Tuten tells Billboard. "We compete with one another every day, but it is fair competition."