BELMONT CRAGIN — The Chicago Fire called off plans to move its headquarters and build a training facility at Hanson Park, and the local alderman said Chicago Public Schools “dropped the ball” to get the deal done.
The team pitched a $90 million, three-story performance center to neighbors in June that would have included seven fields at Hanson Park — bounded by Central, Grand, Fullerton and Long avenues — and relocated the team’s front offices to the facility.
Paul Cadwell, the team’s Senior Vice President of Community Programs, Engagement & Facilities, told neighbors earlier this year that the project would have been privately funded and not use any city money to build.
The team also proposed rehabbing the 2,000-seat Hanson Stadium at 5501 W. Fullerton Ave., which has deteriorated in recent years.
The proposed facility would have neighbored three schools — Hanson Park Elementary, Prosser Career Academy and Prieto Math & Science Academy — which meant the team and CPS needed to ink a deal over use of the public land to move forward.
The team met with the district several times before the June public meeting to figure out a lease agreement for the land, Cadwell previously said. But despite these talks, no deal with CPS has materialized so the team withdrew their proposal, Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th) told Block Club.
“I think what happened was you had no one from the CPS side being a leader to help navigate the Chicago Fire through this process,” Villegas said. “And time kills deals. This is another example of inaction putting a potential project that would have benefitted the Belmont Cragin community, and more importantly Chicago, at risk where eventually it just died.”
A Chicago Fire spokesman confirmed the deal fell through, but would not comment further. CPS declined to comment.
The Chicago Sun-Times first reported on the botched deal.
Billionaire investor Joe Mansueto bought the Chicago Fire in 2019, moved games back to Soldier Field from Bridgeview, and shifted the front offices to the Loop. The failed proposal to build in the working-class Latino neighborhood was part of Mansueto’s plan to keep the team’s operations in the city limits.
Cadwell told neighbors in June the team had gotten to know the neighborhood through its foundation’s community programing, worked with area schools for nearly a decade and seen how passionate the neighborhood is about soccer.
Had the plan moved forward, the team’s new home would have been in one of largest populations of school-aged children anywhere the city. Cadwell argued that would have helped grow the Chicago Fire fan base and even identify potential players to play for the club.
“It would have been tremendous. There’s no more concentration of CPS kids than in my ward at that location there. There are so many schools in just a two-mile radius there with a built-in fan base,” Villegas said. “And you had a potential farm system for kids that might have been interested in pursuing an opportunity to play professional soccer.”
Villegas hopes the team will try to keep working with CPS on soccer programing in Belmont Cragin because that talent pool in the neighborhood is deep, he said. He also wants the team to still consider investing in the city instead of going somewhere else to build.
Some neighbors who provided feedback on the team’s plans for Hanson Park earlier this year worried about the loss of public space where kids play during and after school, people walk their dogs and where neighbors go to just enjoy the park space.
Cadwell told neighbors in June the team wanted to offer access to the park for events like graduations, farmers markets, local youth sports, music festivals and CPS sporting events. But because negotiations with the district were ongoing at the time, he couldn’t provide specific details on how that would work.
“I know some people had concerns. What I heard from those meetings is that they wanted a community benefits agreement, which is something that I’m committed to. I still stand by that type of agreement,” Villegas said. “It’s just unfortunate here you had a very unique project with a professional football team not located downtown, but located in this neighborhood, and CPS just dropped the ball on this.”
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