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A Letter from the Desk of Kelly O'Brien


Dear CCAC Members and Alliance Stakeholders,

It is bittersweet to write this note letting you know that I have accepted an offer to serve as the Chief Advocacy and Strategy Officer at the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance.

Thank YOU for all of the support you’ve shown me over the years.  When I started as the Alliance for Regional Development (Alliance) President & CEO and the Chicago Central Area Committee (CCAC) Executive Director in 2012, it was a novel concept to lead two organizations and promote the concept of regional collaboration.  We have come a long way and I am so proud of the work we have accomplished.

At the beginning of my tenure, on behalf of the Alliance, we applied for and received an EDA grant and raised the required matching funds from sources in the tri-state area (mega-region).  We organized “working teams” in the four subject areas included in The Chicago Tri-State Metropolitan Area OECD Territorial Review and literally had hundreds of stakeholders involved with advancing cross jurisdictional collaborations.

Simultaneously, CCAC began restructuring and broadening its focus area and mission to be a civic organization where its members could engage in initiatives allowing them to “give back” based on their professional expertise.  Understanding the importance of the healthcare sector to the economy, we came out of the box with a planning and visioning charrette at the Illinois Medical District.  The next year, we were honored to be invited by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle to present ideas around repurposing the Old Cook County Hospital.  Showcasing our alignment with the Alliance, CCAC, at the invitation of Mayor Karen Freeman Wilson, participated in creating long-term plans for the Gary/Chicago International Airport.

CCAC has a long history of advancing transportation plans. Together with the University of Illinois Chicago, Urban Transportation Center, we published a report addressing mobility issues with a proposed transit solution called “The Connector.”  That work also led us to explore and create plans to unlock economic development via transportation options to the Obama Presidential Center.

The Burnham Council, CCAC’s emerging leader tier, led an effort to create a vision for the South Branch of the Chicago River, and our members provided expert guidance to take full advantage of development opportunities along this underappreciated waterway.  

Another major highlight during my time includes the publication of the Central City Strategy for All of Chicago whitepaper.  Led by CCAC member SOM, more than 60 members participated, and this important document raised the issues and provided solutions for better linking the City’s core with its neighborhoods.  The first actionable project as a result of the white paper was the Corridor Revitalization Initiative.  CCAC worked in partnership with World Business Chicago and community leaders with a focus on modernizing two block corridors within five selected neighborhoods. 

Now, CCAC is continuing its neighborhood work and at the request of Chicago Department of Planning and Development Commissioner Cox, we are in the middle of round three of INVEST South/West RFP drafting.  Team Overviews are on the CCAC website for round one and two, and round three teams will be recognized following the release of the new RFPs on March 30.


In addition, currently, CCAC is working closely with Mayor Lightfoot’s Office to provide both project management expertise and technical support for Chicago’s pandemic recovery plans via Forward Together Implementation (FTI).  This effort includes four subcommittees, eight co-chairs and CCAC member firms providing technical/content drafting support.

In November of 2020, the Alliance in partnership with the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago hosted the 7th Summit on Regional Competitiveness.  Of course, we had to move to a virtual platform, and while we missed seeing each other live, we discovered that we were able to secure speakers from around the world and we tripled the size of our audience.  In fact, we made history by having Mayor Lightfoot (Chicago), Mayor Barrett (Milwaukee) and Mayor Prince (Gary) on a joint panel.  It was the first time the three spoke publicly together and they pledged their support for regional collaborations.  Today the Alliance is planning a Midwest Center for Innovation that will knit together business, government, academic, and foundation leaders in a virtual and actual network that will marshal a number of the Midwest’s assets around digital innovation and workforce development.

As you can see, both organizations have many accomplishments to celebrate and have been very active.

Looking ahead, although I am transitioning into my new role and relocating to North Carolina, I will stay involved as a resource to the two organizations, particularly for the Forward Together Implementation (FTI) project and its co-chairs, the CCAC technical teams, subcommittee members and of course, the Mayor’s Office.  It is also my intention to attend as many meetings as possible and assist with the editing of the final report.

CCAC Chairman Greg Hummel is very involved and assisted by Alliance/CCAC staff, Clint W. Sabin and Nira Harikrishnan, as well as so many CCAC members, all of whom are committed to meeting and exceeding the goals of the work underway.  Andrew Broderick, Urban Design, Perkins and Will, as well as CCAC Burnham Council President, will step in as the FTI Senior Project Manager.  

I want to thank both the leadership of the Chicago Central Area Committee and the Alliance for Regional Development.  The talent and on-going commitment to the organizations is extraordinary.  I’d like to express my gratitude to Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner for providing office space, access to conference rooms, general service support, and the ability to interact with truly brilliant lawyers and paralegals.  It was always a pleasure to “go to work” and I never imagined that when I left the office last March, assuming I’d be back the next day, I would not be returning.  

There are no words to properly convey how grateful I am to have worked with my two Chairmen, Greg Hummel and Paul Jones.  Both have special places in my heart, and I know how lucky I am to have them as mentors and friends.  

If you are reading this, please know that everything I did and that was accomplished was because of you and your support.  Chicago is home and it has been the honor of a lifetime to be a part of such meaningful work for the City I love and our important mega-region.


Yours in Public Service,


Kelly O'Brien
President and CEO, Alliance for Regional Development
Executive Director, Chicago Central Area Committee

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