NEAR WEST SIDE — An $80 million training campus for the Chicago Fire on the former site of Near West Side public housing is moving forward after a key city vote Thursday.
The Chicago Plan Commission approved a proposal from the Fire soccer club to build a training facility on 24.2 acres of vacant land managed by the Chicago Housing Authority. The property is bounded by Roosevelt Road, Ashland Avenue, 14th Street and Loomis Street. Commissioners voted 11-1 to green light the project.
The complex will include a 50,000-square-foot, two-story headquarters for locker rooms, training and office space, as well as five and a half soccer fields and 150 parking spaces. An inflatable bubble over one of the fields would be installed for winter, officials said.
Fire games would continue to be at Soldier Field.
The City Council’s zoning committee will review the proposal Tuesday before a vote from all 50 alderpeople Wednesday at City Council.
Initially planned for Hanson Park in Belmont Cragin, the massive project stalled last year when residents criticized the proposal, arguing neighboring kids and schools would lose access to public space. The plans were dropped when the negotiations fell through with Chicago Public Schools, which owns Hanson Park.
The revamped proposal puts the facility on the vacant site of the former ABLA Homes along Taylor Street, one of the oldest public housing projects in the city. Most of the buildings were demolished by 2007, with the housing authority vowing to redevelop the property with more than 2,400 units of improved affordable and mixed-use housing, partially for displaced residents.
But most of that housing was never built, and the plan to set aside space for a private sports franchise has drawn the ire of some community members and housing activists, who think officials are reneging on promises to deliver affordable apartments back to the community.
Fire executives and city officials attempted to assuage those concerns at a public meeting in August, touting a proposal to bring 222 mixed-use housing units back to the site as part of the third phase of its larger Roosevelt Square redevelopment. Eighty of those apartments would be for former housing authority residents.
City officials have also defended the project, saying proceeds from leasing the land to the Fire could be re-invested in fixing up aging ABLA buildings and facilities. The Brooks Homes and Loomis Court portions of the former ABLA homes project were left standing after the 2007 demolition and still house residents east of the proposed soccer facility.
“That does not mean we are done, in any way, for bringing housing back,” said Ann McKenzie, a development executive with the housing authority. “But we’re also building community here. We are excited about the prospect of the Chicago Fire joining us on the site.”
Fire officials have said they are committed to ensuring the public can use the space. Those options could include a youth mentorship program and an after-school training academy, as well as 10 internships organized through the ABLA Homes community group, officials said in August. The team also pitched a pedestrian greenway that would connect Loomis Street and Ashland Avenue through the site, executives said.
The project is entirely privately funded, with no public incentives, Fire executive Paul Cadwell said in August.
If the City Council approves the project, Fire executives said they hope to break ground by winter or early spring, with a completion date in 2024.
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