Getting an indoor track facility built on the city’s South Side has been a three-decades-long marathon.
Two longtime advocates for track and field will cross the finish line Thursday when Mayor Rahm Emanuel announces construction of an indoor track facility in a South Side park.
The Gately Indoor Track & Field Facility, at 744 E. 103rd St., will give a new generation of athletes a real opportunity to compete.
Besides the indoor track project, Emanuel will announce a $25 million recreation center to be built on the Near West Side.
“This is going to be the new gold standard of what sports centers look like,” Emanuel told me about the indoor track facility.
The mayor credited ally Ald. Michelle Harris (8th) with being “dogged” and Conrad Worrill (who retired as director of Northeastern University’s Jacob Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies in 2016) with “pushing open the door” on the indoor track project.
Worrill began advocating for an indoor track in 1983 during the late Mayor Harold Washington’s administration.
Although there was a lot of talk, the project never got past the starting line.
Ten years later, he joined forces with real estate developer Elzie Higginbottom and founded “Friends of Track and Field” to revitalize the sport.
Worrill first met Higginbottom at a track meet in 1957 and over the years they bonded over their passion for track and field.
Given the popularity of basketball and football, and the resurgence of youth baseball, most people are probably unaware that there has not been a public indoor track facility in Chicago — ever.
That has meant a generation of track and field athletes were shortchanged.
“I’m walking around here on bad knees today because we used to run track in the hallways on concrete floors,” said Worrill, who ran track at Hyde Park High School.
Although Worrill also played football and basketball, he is still passionate about track.
“I couldn’t get a word in edgewise,” Emanuel said about their meetings on the indoor track project.
Gov. Pat Quinn approved $12 million for the project, but Gov. Bruce Rauner suspended that appropriation. Although Rauner later reinstated the funding, there was a shortage, according to Emanuel.
“It took two years to assemble the funding needed to get the project underway,” the mayor said.
He has pledged an $8 million investment.
“I do know how important after-school and summer activities are and this meets the goal that Harold Washington wanted to do, which was to create the first ever indoor track so athletes could train year-round,” Emanuel said.
Under the leadership of Mellody Hobson, president of Ariel Investments, “After School Matters” is putting in a sizeable amount and Exelon Corp. is kicking in another $6 million, according to the mayor’s office.
The public-private partnership will bring the nationally acclaimed arts program, founded by the late Maggie Daley, to Gately Park.
The 116,500-square-foot facility will feature a hydraulically banked 200-meter track, eight-lane track with a full range of track and field capabilities including long jump, high jump, a dedicated throwing cage, eight sprint lanes and a warm-up area.
The sports complex will also serve as a year-round community center for wellness, culture and after-school programming.
“This is the first ever joint project between ‘After School Matters’ and the Chicago Park District. Mellody really wanted to get into the neighborhoods,” Emanuel said.
Worrill is convinced the facility will help reduce the level of violence plaguing too many neighborhoods on the South Side.
“I think this could provide another athletic and recreational activity for these young people who display tremendous speed in the street engaging in negative activity,” he said.
“I have seen with my own eyes what track and field has done for countless black men and women in my lifetime. I know what it can do to turn lives around.”