The Amateur Athletic Union, which sponsors events in 45 sports across the U.S. and Canada, said Tuesday it has designated the Pullman Community Center as its Midwest headquarters, promising events and programs that will draw visitors and jobs to the South Side community.
The AAU said it will work with the Chicago Sports Alliance, its largest licensed event operator, to schedule tournaments, leagues and year-round programs at the center, 10355 S. Woodlawn Ave.
The property is part of the old Ryerson Steel site that nonprofit developer Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives has turned into a business and community hub. On Monday, Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) said Amazon plans to build a shipping location next door to the Pullman Community Center, although a company source said there is no final deal.
Jo Mirza, AAU national treasurer, said the center will be part of an AAU campaign to increase sports participation among youths who face socio-economic or other hardships.
“This is going to be the sports center of the Midwest,” he said. The facility is ideal for the AAU because it is well-equipped and accessible to groups coming from neighboring states, he said.
“It’s an amazing facility and will be the model for future programs like this in amateur sports. The place is just fertile ground for growth,” Mirza said.
At 135,000 square feet, the center has three hardwood courts and turf fields for indoor play. But under the agreement with AAU, it will have 12 basketball courts that convert to 24 volleyball courts for events starting later this year.
The agreement stipulates the AAU will hold its Midwest Championship basketball tournament and other recurring events in Pullman.
Although it is called a Midwest headquarters, there is no permanent job estimate attached to the agreement. The AAU largely operates through volunteer organizations that run the individual sports.
But Mirza said the development is a positive sign for the neighborhood’s economy, as it will attract visitors.
Beale echoed that theme in a statement. “We’re terribly excited because the PCC continues to demonstrate that it not only can be a state-of-the-art athletic facility providing a safe and nurturing environment, but it can also be an engine for economic development and opportunities that are essential to building a strong, sustainable community,” he said.
Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives has said it intends to develop a hotel on the Pullman site to serve the athletic center and surrounding businesses, such as Method Home Products, two Gotham Greens produce greenhouses and a Whole Foods Midwest Distribution Center. The hotel also could serve Pullman’s National Historic Monument site and Porter Museum.
It’s expected the AAU’s sponsors and former stars now in the NBA and WNBA will offer camps and clinics at the center. One player the AAU said will be involved is Gabby Williams of the WNBA’s Chicago Sky.