BELMONT CRAGIN — The Chicago Fire wants to transform a huge swath of a Belmont Cragin park into a 32-acre training complex, and neighbors will have a chance to weigh in on the grand proposal at a community meeting Thursday.
The team wants to build a three-story performance center and seven fields at Hanson Park, bounded by Central, Grand, Fullerton and Long avenues. Organization leaders are also planning to rehab the 2,000-seat Hanson Stadium at 5501 W. Fullerton Ave., which has deteriorated in recent years, Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th) said.
The facility would neighbor three schools: Hanson Park Elementary, Prosser Career Academy and Prieto Math & Science Academy. The project is expected to cost about $90 million.
Team owner Joe Mansueto said the Fire want to establish a centralized location for the team to practice and to give the working-class Latino neighborhood of Belmont Cragin an economic boost. The team will continue to play home games at Soldier Field, and fans wouldn’t have unfettered access to the facility.
“The Chicago Fire Football Club is excited about the prospect of investing in Belmont Cragin and building our performance center in the neighborhood,” a team spokesman said in an emailed statement. “This is the first step in a long process, and we look forward to working with the local community, the city of Chicago and Chicago Public Schools to make this dream a reality.”
Chicago Fire officials and Villegas are hosting a virtual community meeting on the project 6 p.m. Thursday so neighbors can provide feedback. For more information on the community meeting, and for a link, visit Villegas’ Facebook.
So far, the community response has been positive, Villegas said. Soccer is popular among Belmont Cragin residents, the alderman said, and local kids will get the opportunity to play on state-of-the-art fields should the project move forward.
The Hanson Park property is owned by Chicago Public Schools. The Fire plans to lease the property from the city agency, an agreement that would allow the general public to use “a portion of the complex for various activities,” the city said on its website.
Mansueto and his organization also plan to install updated lighting and add landscaping to the park property and improve other parts of the neighborhood, like fixing up the soccer field at nearby Riis Park, Crain’s reported.
Villegas hasn’t formally given his stamp of approval because he’s waiting to hear more feedback from the community, but he said the project is “exciting” and could be a huge boon for Belmont Cragin.
The land is being improved by a Cook County Health Center, which is under construction, and a nearby community garden, but it also has a lot of open green space, which makes it ripe for redevelopment, Villegas said. Hanson Stadium, where Villegas played baseball and football while in high school, is in dire need of upgrades, he said.
“There’s a good opportunity to put Belmont Cragin on the map and really allow for our community be showcased,” the alderman said.
Because of the project’s large scale, Mansueto and his organization need several layers of City Council approval.
If realized, the massive Belmont Cragin complex would increase the Chicago Fire’s growing presence in Chicago. Earlier this year, the team moved its home games from suburban Bridgeview to Soldier Field.
Mansueto, the team owner, is a billionaire investor who is also planning to build a $50 million “creative office campus” in West Humboldt Park.
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