Mayor Johnson names real estate pro Ciere Boatright to lead planning department

Mayor Brandon Johnson on Wednesday nominated a real estate executive known for her work on community revival to run the Chicago Department of Planning and Development.

Ciere Boatright was appointed to lead the city agency that will have a role in shaping Chicago’s future, from whether the Chicago Bears stay in town to how to revive the central business district while investing in the neighborhoods.

If approved by the City Council, she would begin her $196,964-a-year job Nov. 20. Boatright succeeds Maurice Cox, who resigned in September after four years working for previous Mayor Lori Lightfoot. Boatright could not be reached for comment.

City Zoning Administrator Patrick Murphey led the planning department on a temporary basis. The mayor’s office said Murphey will be promoted to first deputy commissioner in the planning department.

Boatright will come to City Hall after serving as vice president of real estate and community development for CRG, the investment arm of Chicago-based Clayco construction firm. She has been involved in what the firm called “high-impact real-estate projects” and philanthropy in markets where it has investments. She also started a program to mentor and support commercial developers of color.

She previously worked at Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives, a firm known for leading redevelopment in Pullman.

Johnson called Boatright “a tremendously talented and respected executive with a proven track record of managing public and private developments across the city and getting deals done.”

He added in a statement, “As a native Chicagoan who knows the landscape of our city, her unique understanding of community economic development, commercial real estate, affordable housing, job creation and neighborhood engagement will ensure our city works equitably for all Chicagoans.”

Boatright said in a news release she will promote inclusive growth citywide.

“Together, we will work with communities to foster inclusive growth through equitable contracting, planning, zoning, development and innovation that will fuel meaningful economic opportunities for generations of Chicagoans,” she said.

The agency will face difficult issues, including whether it can support the revival of La Salle Street. Its current plan involves the use of tax-increment financing to help developers convert old office buildings into residential use. Developers of five city-favored projects have asked for TIF subsidies totaling $321 million.

The La Salle project Cox and Lightfoot championed could be upended by Johnson’s plan in his new budget to divert surplus TIF funds to plug a hole in the city budget, downtown alderpersons have said.

But mayoral adviser Jason Lee insisted the Central Loop TIF fund, replenished each year by property taxes, grows fast enough to support projects while still allowing the surplus to be tapped.

“Nothing that we did this year would impact the potential allocation for La Salle Street,” Lee said.

He added that supporting downtown revival “has to be calibrated with the public good, with responsible management of city dollars. And also, we may be able to take a more granular approach. … There could be a role for commercial-to-residential conversion. But it has to be done in a way that is justifiable to the taxpayers. And we’re still evaluating these transactions to see if they meet that mark.”

Lee hinted strongly that Lightfoot’s Invest South/West plan for the South and West sides was too much sizzle and not enough steak. He said Johnson is determined to “make sure that we’re getting a lot of deals to the finish line across the city.” Five of 14 projects the prior administration announced have broken ground.

“One of the things that’s been noted is that there weren’t this number of fulfilled transactions as folks would have liked. We noticed that as well. … And there’s high demand from aldermen and other stakeholders to see some of these deals through to fruition,” Lee said.

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