Pastor Corey Brooks poses for a portrait as he spends over 100 days atop shipping containers near Project HOOD in Woodlawn on March 3, 2022. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

WOODLAWN — A South Side pastor’s plan to build a transformational community center is one step closer to reality thanks to an $8 million donation from the McCormick Foundation.

Pastor Corey Brooks, also known as the Rooftop Pastor, plans to build the 85,000-square-foot Project H.O.O.D. community center near Parkway Gardens at 66th Street and King Drive. The multi-million-dollar gift from McCormick brings the project within reach, Brooks said, as he has $6.5 million left to raise.

Plans for the center include a social space with after-school programs; Wi-Fi lounges; a business incubator; an ice cream shop, burger joint and pizzeria; space for vocational training; a multimedia lab; a rooftop garden; a performing arts center; and a health and wellness center, among other amenities.

“Woodlawn residents deserve access to the same opportunities as those who live on the North Side, including job skills development, entrepreneurship training, arts and sports programs for young people, and safe places to play,” Brooks previously said.

The foundation secured naming rights for the center, which will be known as the Robert R. McCormick Leadership and Economic Opportunity Center. It’s the largest single gift to the community center project, said Brooks, who leads New Beginnings Church.

It’s also one of the largest gifts the foundation has ever made to a community-based organization, McCormick Foundation CEO Tim Knight said.

“Pastor Corey Brooks is one of those visionary and impactful leaders,” Knight said. “… Project H.O.O.D.’s ambitious goal for positive development in Woodlawn, Greater Englewood and the community at large advanced the foundation’s mission to build thriving communities and create safe places for residents to live, work, play and shop.”

New Beginnings Church pastor Corey Brooks announces an $8 million donation from the McCormick Foundation to Project H.O.O.D.’s community center project at 66th Street and King Drive in Woodlawn Feb. 1. He’s flanked by foundation CEO Tim Knight (far left) and Related Midwest Vice President Don Biernacki. Credit: Maxwell Evans/Block Club Chicago

The group will continue to fundraise “as fast as we possibly can,” and Brooks hopes to raise the final few million in the next few months, he told Block Club.

Part of the McCormick Foundation’s $8 million grant will be used to match future donations, Knight said.

“This is one of the best projects we’ve seen and we’re excited to support it,” Knight said.

Project H.O.O.D. has outgrown its existing space at New Beginnings Church, 6620 S. King Drive, and needs to expand to continue meeting the broader community’s needs, Brooks said.

Parkway Gardens residents will get free memberships to the community center once it opens. To donate to the fundraising campaign, click here.

Brooks camped out in a tent on top of shipping containers at the construction site starting in November 2021. Brooks initially pledged to stay in the tent for 100 days, then extended his stay indefinitely.

The campout, which served as a fundraiser for the community center, ended last fall.

Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich; Rob Scheer, founder of the nonprofit Comfort Cases; and Adlai Pharmaceuticals CEO William Stilley were among Brooks’ overnight guests during the campaign.

Pastor Corey Brooks poses for a portrait as he spends over 100 days atop shipping containers near Project HOOD in Woodlawn on March 3, 2022. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

Prominent developer Related Midwest donated “a wide array of services” in architecture, design and construction to the project last year. Brooks estimated the value of the services at $2 million.

The company took over Parkway Gardens — the affordable housing complex on King Drive from 63rd and 65th streets, just north of New Beginnings Church — in 2012. The developer put the complex up for sale last year before taking it off the market shortly after.

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