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Controversial Lease Of Public Housing Land To Pro Soccer Team Finalized With Federal Approval

City officials said construction on the site could begin this spring.

A rendering of the Chicago Fire's $80 million training facility on the Near West Side. The campus will be built on 24 acres of vacant land on the former ABLA public homes.
City of Chicago
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NEAR WEST SIDE — The Chicago Housing Authority has finalized its deal to lease public housing land to the Chicago Fire pro soccer team despite pushback from concerned neighbors and housing activists.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office announced Monday that the Housing Authority and Chicago Fire soccer team signed a lease for at least the next four decades after the federal government signed off on the deal earlier this month. The signing was not on the mayor’s public schedule or part of a public event.

The pro soccer team plans to build a new training facility on the site. Before the agreement, the land had long been set aside for new housing, much of it for low-income residents.

Officials said the deal is expected to bring the Chicago Housing Authority at least $40 million over the next 40 years, which the agency has pledged to invest in housing. But the fine print of the lease shows that the total figure is not set in stone, since future rent payments could vary depending on inflation and renegotiations. The lease also includes provisions that could extend the deal another 20 years, to six decades in all.

“The Chicago Fire, one of our city’s greatest sports teams, deserves to have a high-quality training facility that not only meets their needs but fosters the growth of talented athletes,” Lightfoot said in a news release. “This potential new facility will both fulfill this need and provide the surrounding West Side community with job opportunities, recreational activities, and community gathering spaces. Additionally, the millions of dollars in rental income generated by this project will support the CHA’s efforts to rehabilitate and build affordable housing in the surrounding areas.” 

But some residents and housing advocates have criticized the plan as another failure by the Housing Authority to produce housing it has promised for more than two decades.

The 23.3 acres of land is bounded by Roosevelt Road, Ashland Avenue, 14th Street and Loomis Street on the city’s Near West Side. The site was once part of the Addams, Brooks, Loomis and Abbott developments — together known as the ABLA Homes. As the Housing Authority demolished hundreds of units at ABLA in the early 2000s, it vowed to replace them with more than 2,400 units of improved affordable and mixed-use housing, including for displaced residents. But so far the agency is hundreds of units short of those promises.

City Council approved the zoning for the deal in September with pushback from some alderpeople and affordable housing activists. 

Just last week, neighbors staged a protest outside the Chicago office of the Department of Housing and Urban Development asking the federal agency to halt the sale — despite a history of the department routinely approving Chicago Housing Authority land sales.

Documents show HUD gave the Housing Authority approval in a March 6 letter. The letter mostly repeated the mayor’s and Housing Authority’s arguments that the deal would generate money that could be used for housing and other community improvements.

RELATED: The Chicago Housing Authority Keeps Giving Up Valuable Land While HUD Rubber-Stamps The Deals

Credit: Madison Savedra/Block Club Chicago
Don Washington and other housing advocates gather outside the Chicago satellite office of the Department of Housing and Urban Development March 8, 2023 to ask the department to stop the city leasing public housing land to a pro sports team.

The Fire has released plans to build a 53,000 square-foot, two-story performance center, two-and-a-half hybrid grass pitches and three synthetic turf pitches, according to the city’s news release.

The team has also discussed starting a youth mentorship program and an after-school soccer training academy.

“Being a part of and giving back to Chicago is at the heart of the Chicago Fire Football Club ethos, and we are excited to put down roots on the Near West Side in the Roosevelt Square community,” said Chicago Fire FC owner Joe Mansueto in the news release.

“The development of our new facility will provide a state-of-the-art training environment for our players, coaches, and sporting staff. Our facility will also serve as a community programming home to the next generation of Chicagoans, bringing our city together through the sport of soccer.”

Lightfoot, Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) and Housing Authority CEO Tracey Scott have pushed the project for more than a year, claiming it will bring in additional funds for the Housing Authority to built and improve housing and provide an economic boost to the area.

But until the Monday announcement that the deal was done, the city and HOusing Authority had kept the exact terms of the lease secret.

The lease, now posted on the Chicago Housing Authority’s website, spells out that the agency will receive $8 million in payments over the next decade, at least half of which will go toward green space, new parking and other improvements in the area near the leased land. In addition, the Fire will make rent payments that start at $750,000 a year and then vary based on inflation and future appraisals. If the Fire sells naming rights to the new facility, it can keep the proceeds.

Officials said Monday that construction on the site is expected to begin this spring.

The proposed Chicago Fire facility isn’t the only project on the Addams, Brooks, Loomis and Abbott Homes sites.

In September, officials held a groundbreaking ceremony for the National Public Housing Museum, a project that’s been in the works for 15 years to renovate the last remaining building from Jane Addams Home at 1322 W. Taylor St. It’s expected to open this fall.

The museum will use oral histories, art, photography and more to preserve the stories to come out of public housing in Chicago, reshaping the narrative of what public housing is and informing discussion on housing policies, museum leaders have said.

It will also have 15 mixed-income apartments from a partnership with the city housing agency and developer Related Midwest.

And in January, construction began on the next phase of the Roosevelt Square development — 222 new apartments and 184 rehabbed apartments in the ABLA area. The new apartments will be in three mid-rise buildings at 1002 S. Racine Ave., 1257 W. Roosevelt Road and 1357 W. Roosevelt Road with studios to three-bedroom apartments.

This project phase of Roosevelt Square is expected to wrap by 2024.

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