Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to build a $95 million public safety training campus in West Garfield Park to replace Chicago’s cramped and antiquated police and fire training academies took a giant step forward Tuesday.
To the cheers of local Ald. Emma Mitts (37th), the Community Development Commission authorized the city to acquire the 30.4-acre site in the Northwest Industrial Corridor tax-increment-financing district.
Mitts hailed the new facility as an economic and public safety boost to an impoverished neighborhood plagued by gang violence.
“The community feels that it’ll make it much more safe. They’re just so excited about that. They’ll see police and fireman moving in the area doing training. You’re gonna have a lot more police there,” Mitts said.
“I’ve lived there over 35 years and it’s been vacant since I’ve been there. The community has been complaining about no retail there. So, I changed the zoning not knowing they were going to put the police and fire academy across the street. Hopefully, we can attract the retail they were talking about like grocery stores. They have to go outside of the neighborhood. Nothing in walking distance where you can get good produce.”
The land sale and initial work on the two-building campus at 4301 W. Chicago Ave. will be bankrolled, in part, by “at least $20 million” from the sale of a valuable fleet maintenance facility site near the Chicago River on the North Side.
Developer Sterling Bay agreed earlier this year to pay the city $104.7 million for the site where city vehicles now are maintained. The deal also requires Sterling Bay to build a new city maintenance facility in Englewood.
The remaining $75 million in construction costs is expected to come from “the sale of other surplus property,” including the antiquated police and fire academies the new campus will replace.
Emanuel’s 2017 budget already assumes using proceeds from selling the West Town fleet site to finance a previously shelved $31 million overhaul of Chicago’s 311 non-emergency system.
Mitts chairs the City Council’s License Committee and is one of Emanuel’s staunchest Council supporters. Even so, she has complained long and loud about the West Side being left behind as Emanuel pours resources into the South Side in a frenzied effort to rebuild trust with black voters shattered by his handling of the Laquan McDonald shooting video.
Tuesday’s vote means the squeaky wheel is finally getting oiled.
“It’s overdue. I’m only speaking what my community says and what I see. The truth is the truth. He heard me. He probably knows” it was time to share the wealth with the West Side, Mitts said.
“It gives me some breathing room to say that we’ve got something coming. … It was time to look at us and not leave us there as if we were not a part of the city.”
Mitts hesitated when asked if the project would bolster Emanuel’s support among West Side voters if the mayor seeks a third term.
It depends on whether West Side contractors get to work on the project and area residents help build it, she said.
“The people won’t know that he [Emanuel] put it there. They’ll forget all about that. But they won’t forget if they’re involved with it,” she said.
The public safety training campus is tailor-made to improve training that the U.S. Justice Department found sorely lacking in its year-long examination of the Chicago Police Department triggered by the McDonald shooting.
Renderings released by the city show a main building with classrooms, labs, simulators, conference rooms, an auditorium and offices. The second building will include a dive-training pool, a shooting range and space for “active-scenario” simulations ranging from buildings to L trains.
Outdoors, there will be a driving course, a skid pad and space for “hands-on practice in real-world situations.”
The campus replaces the 41-year-old police academy at 1300 W. Jackson Blvd., the 67-year-old fire academy at 1010 S. Clinton St. and the south fire academy at 1338 S. Clinton St., developed 52 years ago.