NEAR WEST SIDE — City officials celebrated the groundbreaking for the $80 million Chicago Fire practice facility Tuesday, much to the dismay of local public housing advocates.
The soccer training facility is being built on vacant land owned by the Chicago Housing Authority on the Near West Side.
The site, bounded by Roosevelt Road, Ashland Avenue, 14th Street and Loomis Street, was once part of the Addams, Brooks, Loomis and Abbott developments — together known as the ABLA Homes.
In 2017, the city vowed to redevelop the site with more than 2,400 units of improved affordable and mixed-use housing, partially for residents displaced when most of the ABLA Homes were destroyed. But that never happened.
The Chicago Fire soccer team signed a lease for at least the next four decades after the federal government signed off on the deal in March.
“I’m very proud to say with today’s groundbreaking, my administration has now broken ground on two of the largest parcels of vacant land on the West Side,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Tuesday. “Earlier last year we broke ground on the long dormant facility at. Roosevelt and Kostner, both Invest South/West projects … which means we are activating over 50 acres of vacant land on the West Side and repurposing that land to serve our residents.”
The Fire are owned by billionaire business leader Joe Mansueto, a campaign donor to Lightfoot.
The soccer team 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.
The team has also discussed starting a youth mentorship program and an after-school soccer training academy.
Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) and Chicago Housing Authority CEO Tracey Scott also praised the project, saying the Fire will make an $8 million “investment” in the CHA on top of about $40 million in lease payments for the land over the next four decades.
That includes annual rent the soccer team will pay, which will vary based on inflation and future appraisals, according to the agency’s website.
Scott said the proceeds will be reinvested to preserve and maintain existing public housing in the city — and build new homes.
“I’d like to make one point crystal clear: CHA will fulfill our commitment to developing new housing in this area,” Scott said.
Since announcing the deal with the Fire last year, CHA and city officials have tried to ward off criticism over their unfulfilled promises to build replacement housing at the ABLA site. They also announced plans to build 222 housing units for people with a mix of incomes as part of the third phase of Roosevelt Square, as the ABLA redevelopment is known. Eighty of those apartments would be for public housing residents.
“We can build the new housing that we committed to on other vacant CHA and city-owned land and the city gets a new corporate headquarters with hundreds of workers and jobs and careers. This is win-win-win-win-win,” Scott said.
But as city leaders praised the groundbreaking inside the Jane Addams Family Resource Center, 1254 S. Loomis St., housing activists protested the facility outside. As city leaders and Chicago Fire officials were escorted outside for a groundbreaking photo, nine protestors booed and called those passing by “traitors.”
Antwain Miller, a housing organizer for Lugenia Burns Hope Center, said the group heard of the groundbreaking Tuesday morning and rushed to the site. He’s been organizing against the facility for months, along with other residents and neighbors.
“At the end of the day I’m at the CHA waiting list and been on there for four years. What’s the hold up? If y’all built up more properties then they could cut the list down. It’s common sense … but the CHA wants to turn into a real estate company,” Miller said.
Even though construction is set to start, activists are not backing down. Rod Wilson, executive director of the Hope Center, said he’s headed to Washington, D.C., this week to take their demands to Congress.
Wilson said he’s scheduled to meet with Rep. Maxine Waters, ranking minority leader of the House Committee on Financial Services, which oversees issues pertaining to the economy, the banking system, housing, insurance, and securities and exchanges.
Wilson has repeatedly blasted the deal with the professional soccer club, questioning why the CHA is subsidizing the Fire’s practice facility with public housing land. He hopes members of Congress can get federal officials to pause the project.
“I get that we need things other than housing, but that’s not CHA’s job,” Wilson said.
In a statement, Hope Center officials said the CHA has not met its obligation of building replacement housing at ABLA. The agency promised more than 750 public housing units at the site, but so far it has failed to produce even half of them.
“To lease off 25 acres of land in the ABLA Homes development to the Chicago Fire soccer team in the midst of a housing crisis would set a dangerous precedent in Chicago,” Hope Center officials said in a news release Tuesday.
Listen to “It’s All Good: A Block Club Chicago Podcast”: