A rendering of youth nonprofit Future Ties' proposed community center at 6330 S. King Drive. The Spark Center would include a community kitchen, gym with basketball court, recording studio, social services and more. Credit: Provided

WOODLAWN — A nonprofit offering programs to South Side youth is planning to open a community center with a commercial kitchen, social services and more in West Woodlawn.

Future Ties — which provides kids living in the Parkway Gardens housing complex with homework help, after-school activities and summer camps — plans to open the Spark Center at 6330 S. King Drive next year, organizers said.

The Spark Center will house the nonprofit’s workforce development, parenting, barber training and other programs while allowing room for growth, said Executive Director Jennifer Maddox.

The center’s kitchen will be open to “local entrepreneurs who are trying to start their own business and brand,” Maddox said. Future Ties also leaned on input from local youth to plan for amenities like a basketball court and a recording studio, she said.

“What we’re trying to do is have safe spaces for our young people,” Maddox said. “… If we don’t get their input and buy-in, this would just be an empty building with nobody here.”

The Spark Center will also offer social services around domestic violence, legal aid, family counseling, substance abuse treatment and other needs through partnerships with local organizations, Maddox said.

“We want to get [kids] off the streets and provide them with better opportunities so that they’re not either an offender or … a victim, but they’re able to get some of the supportive services they need to further their education or their employment,” she said.

A child participating in one of the Woodlawn-based nonprofit Future Ties’ programs drops a tile down a large game of Connect Four, as seen during a 2021 short film about the nonprofit. Credit: Strides for Peace

Future Ties was founded in 2011 in the basement of a Parkway Gardens apartment building. Residents and neighborhood leaders have long questioned why violence and poor living conditions are so prevalent at the complex, which is owned by one of Chicago’s most high-profile developers, Related Midwest.

Space has been “very limited” as Future Ties’ programs have expanded — and even more so recently as construction continues at Parkway Gardens, Maddox said.

The entrance to the basement at 6418 S. King Drive in the Parkway Gardens complex, where Future Ties was founded. Credit: Provided

The Walgreens at 63rd Street and King Drive closed in 2016 as part of a cost-cutting effort that led neighbors to question the pharmacy’s commitment to underserved neighborhoods, according to the Chicago Crusader.

Walgreens donated the building to Woodlawn nonprofit Project H.O.O.D., which opened a jobs training center there in 2017. A Delaware-based LLC owned the building when it went into foreclosure in 2021, county records show.

Project H.O.O.D. is now planning a new community center a few blocks away at 66th Street and King Drive. It wasn’t immediately clear when the organization moved out of the former Walgreens.

Future Ties bought the former Walgreens in December 2021 with the help of a $1 million donation from fitness and nutrition company BODi, Maddox said. The company is also sponsoring the Spark Center’s fitness area, which will include yoga and dance programs, she said.

The planned center’s location near the King Drive Green Line stop and Future Ties’ partner elementary schools like Dulles, Fiske, Till and Carnegie will be convenient for neighbors in need of services, Maddox said.

Some of the nonprofit’s programs have already moved into the former Walgreens “because we still need to be an entity where kids feel safe to come to,” Maddox said.

The Spark Center’s completion has been a goal for Future Ties since the mid-2010s, Maddox said. Now, with most of the $7 million needed to renovate the building already raised, that dream is closer than ever to reality, she said.

“The goal was to get us a brick-and-mortar of our own so we can expand our programming and also provide services to residents of Woodlawn, Greater Grand Crossing and Washington Park, if need be,” Maddox said.

Maddox, who placed second in the Feb. 28 election for 20th Ward alderperson, is pursuing a special-use permit ahead of the Spark Center’s opening, she said.

Ald. Jeanette Taylor’s (20th) support for the permit will depend on the results of a community input process. Neighbors who live within a half-mile of the Spark Center site are eligible to vote.

Residents can click here to vote online. Voters must upload proof of residency, such as a state-issued or city-issued ID or a voter registration card. Voting closes at the end of the day Thursday.

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