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Sterling Bay centers diversity in Chicago development

The name Sterling Bay has steadily made rounds across Chicago throughout the years as they continue to break ground across the city with multiple large-scale development projects. Self-acknowledged as a “leader in identifying and creating urban campus opportunities,” the name has become synonymous with several projects changing the city’s skyline. Currently developing projects and breaking ground for both 345 N Morgan (Fulton Market), and 300 N Michigan Avenue (Michigan Avenue) and Lincoln Yards, Sterling Bay has become a major player in changing the city’s footprint.

The rapid and continued growth throughout the city while applauded by some, has also created concern regarding the wider effects on the city—particularly regarding the cost of developing such large projects, often coined as “mega-developments.”

Mega-developments, large scale projects typically spanning multiple acres and involving several business entities ranging from residential apartments, office spaces, and retail fronts, have become the next big thing in the world of real estate development.

The growing desire to live closer to the city, particularly among younger individuals, has led to the trend of creating miniature “cities within the city,” with built-in amenities to attract renters, both residential and business-oriented alike.

Such projects incur high production costs, including the price of acquiring such vast amounts of land, large quantities of materials and labor, as well as securing the city’s approval.

Equally so, the impact on the city’s racial and economic diversity is also heavily felt by the development of such extensive real estate projects, often in the form of loss of housing due to gentrification and displacement.

To address the public’s concerns regarding diversity (or lack thereof ) both in the community and within the company, Sterling Bay has employed Keiana Barrett in the capacity of Director of Diversity and Strategic Development, to continue the efforts of creating a general staff focused on community engagement and minority contracting.

ATTENDEES AT THE Sterling Bay MWBE Networking Fair for its 345 N. Morgan project in Fulton Market hosted by Keiana Barrett. Prospective contractors have the opportunity to connect with project leadership.

With a commitment to “moving the equity needle” and creating initiatives meant to build wealth in marginalized communities, Barrett is the “chief engineer” in handling diversity, equity, and inclusion programs offered by Sterling Bay to uphold its “commitment not only to building buildings, but actually constructing pipelines of talent and pathways to opportunities,” explains Barrett.

In the case of Sterling Bay, the need for diversity and inclusion exists both structurally within the company and in contractors employed throughout development, as well as externally within communities disrupted by ongoing projects.

“Exclusion comes at a cost,” says Barrett, “I read a report from Citi-group that indicated that America could have been $16 trillion richer had it not been for inequities in education and housing and in business. We have to be equally as calculated with how we inform businesses of color with opportunities to be at the table and to learn of these opportunities and build partnerships with other firms in the industry.”

On the frontline of addressing systemic barriers preventing minority- and women-owned firms from entering the field of construction and development, Sterling Bay has conceived several initiatives to make strides in alleviating such issues.

“One of the barriers in why many minority firms can’t compete is because the size of the contracts is so enormous, whether its bonding limitations or overall capacity, it creates challenges,” Barrett said when describing the difficulties facing small, minority-owned businesses in the field.

To address this issue, networking sessions are held for small firms, in partnership with the in-house Sterling Bay diversity and inclusion council, to provide members with face-to-face access to explain bid packages when sourcing new opportunities.

As the owner and developer of these projects, Sterling Bay does not utilize a general contracting arm within its structure. However, to ensure their projects employ a diverse range of construction sub-contractors, the company strictly adheres to the 26/6 rule—meaning each project will employ 26 percent minority-owned firms and 6 percent female-owned firms on any particular project. In the case of the Lincoln Yards project’s infrastructure, which will unite Lincoln Park and Bucktown, this ratio was increased to 30/10.

Lincoln Yards has not been exempt from scrutiny from the public and has garnered its share of criticism since the site’s land was purchased by Sterling Bay in 2016. The project is described as a mixed-use community set to span 53-acres across the city including retail, residential, offices and greenspaces. The development is expected to total $6 billion with up to $900 million approved to be provided from tax-increment financing.

Ground first broke on the project early this year with several recreational spaces now open to the public. The project in its entirety is scheduled to reach completion over the course of 10 years.

As for community engagement, Sterling Bay has devised and executed several initiatives to aid in diversity and inclusion. This includes the Sterling Bay Connects Youth Program, an internship program for newly graduated, first-generation college students in collaboration with Chicago Scholars.

The program hosted 12 students this summer. Plans have been made to create a scholarship program for future participating students.

Additionally, a mobile gallery has been created to host minority and female artists in partnership with Gallery Guichard to curate an exhibition currently displayed in the Prudential Center (managed by Sterling Bay) to address the lack of diverse artists on the executive, C- suite level and expose participants to additional clientele.

Sterling Bay also acquired a parcel in the Englewood community at 67th and Wentworth at the former Kennedy King site, currently hosting wellness events such as drive-up COVID testing, flu vaccines, and other health-related services with help of community partners. In collaboration with 6th Ward Alderman Rod Sawyer, the site has also been used for holiday food giveaways.

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