AUSTIN – Neighborhood groups broke ground Wednesday on a 10-acre community campus that will include a youth center and a state-of-the-art sports facility.
The $31-million campus at 1841 N. Laramie Ave. is designed to fill the gap in athletic, leadership development and after-school programs for West Side youths. The center is being developed through a partnership between Grace and Peace Revive Center, By the Hand Club for Kids and Intentional Sports.
“Our youth didn’t have anything to be able to go and have outlets where they have resources and the help they need,” Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) said.
The campus will be home to a By The Hand clubhouse expected to serve at least 400 kids from neighborhood public schools, executive director Donnita Travis said. The clubhouse will host after-school programs designed to support each student from kindergarten through college with academic assistance, technology instruction, tutoring and mentorships.
“Our role in this new facility will be to help our kids excel academically while loving them holistically,” Travis said. “When we think about the young people, and the changes that are going to take place to this neighborhood, I tell you the sacrifices are nothing.”
Outside, there will be multiple athletic fields and courts expected to serve at least 25,000 participants each year, organizers said.
The campus will include the Chicago Fire FC Soccer Field, which will become the city’s only indoor FIFA-regulation turf arena and the largest turf field on the West Side. The Chicago Fire Foundation is a financial supporter of the project, and the organization will relocate their headquarters to the new campus.
The Chicago Fire will also offer at least 20 hours of weekly free community soccer programs at the campus to “ensure that everyone, regardless of their socioeconomic status, has equal opportunities and has access to receive professional-level coaching and training,” said Jessica Yavitz, executive director of the Chicago Fire Foundation.
This would be separate from another project the team is eyeing for the West Side: a $90 million practice facility at Hanson Park.
Sports training and leadership development also will be offered at the center’s Jason Heyward Baseball Academy, founded by the Chicago Cubs right fielder.
The baseball academy will give local youth “an opportunity to come and practice and play on fields that are quality,” said Tevin Hayes, assistant site director and baseball coach for By the Hand.
Hayes grew up in Austin, where there was no place to play baseball locally, he said.
“I know what it’s like to not have access. … If I wanted to play, I had to go to Oak Park,” Hayes said.
A $1.5-million state grant from the Rebuild Illinois Shovel-Ready Sites Program helped redevelop the land, which was vacant for over 30 years and once was home to a paint factory.
The project will create 75 permanent jobs and 200 temporary construction jobs, organizers said.
Before pivoting to build the sports and youth center, city officials pursued a competing plan to turn the vacant land into a solar farm. The city relented and gave the greenlight to the sports campus after an outpouring of support from the community, neighborhood groups and public officials.
“Can you imagine a solar field on the property in place of what we’re doing here today? What would that do for our youth in the neighborhood?” Travis said.
The sports facility and youth center will be a refuge for young people in the neighborhood and will prevent “our youth going down the wrong paths,” said Camella Sutton, speaking on behalf of the Galewood Crossings Homeowners Association.
“It is the hope our community needs. It will bring jobs, mentors, and most importantly a safe haven for our kids,” Sutton said.
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