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Silver Shovel to silver sluggers? Cubs eye scandal-tied site for youth complex

The team plans to submit a proposal this week for property at Roosevelt Road and Kostner Avenue, formerly the site of an illegal dump.

Vacant property running northeast from Roosevelt Road and Kostner Avenue could become a Chicago Cubs youth sports center.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

The Chicago Cubs are stepping to the plate with a development plan for a long-vacant site in Lawndale that was the centerpiece of a political scandal in the 1990s.

The team’s charitable arm is interested in putting a baseball-oriented training center for youths on a roughly 21-acre site at Roosevelt Road and Kostner Avenue. Team spokesman Julian Green said the Cubs this week will submit a proposal to the city, which owns the property.

He said the Cubs Urban Youth Academy and campus would help fulfill the longtime goals of the Ricketts family, which owns the team.

“Our goal through Cubs Charities is increasing access to diamond sports — baseball and softball — in underserved communities” while helping youths with social and academic progress, Green said. He said the team also wants to reverse the decline of African Americans playing professional baseball.

The property was associated with the Silver Shovel scandal in which aldermen were convicted of taking bribes to overlook illegal dumping. It used to have mountains of construction debris that have been removed, although a city report says the property still has environmental issues requiring a cleanup.

“If selected, we will be prepared to be engaged in the necessary remediation,” Green said. City documents report the site, empty for decades, used to contain factories producing rubber, salt and tobacco, among other products.

But city leaders first must decide if the Cubs get it. The team is responding to a formal request for development ideas issued as part of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s emphasis on assisting lower-income neighborhoods. Other investors could submit different plans by the city’s deadline Thursday.

The site at Roosevelt Road and Kostner Avenue in 1996.
The site at Roosevelt Road and Kostner Avenue in 1996.
Sun-Times file

A spokesman for the city’s Department of Planning and Development had no immediate comment on the Cubs’ idea. City officials have said they will evaluate responses to their “request for proposals” based on their economic promise and community benefits. The plan is to shortlist the best responses, take residents’ feedback then pick a winner in the spring.

The RFP process lets the city judge proposals on a variety of factors instead of just the bottom line of who offers the highest price. Documents show the city is offering the land in “as is” condition with no taxpayer obligation for future cleanup.

“It’s great that the Cubs are interested, and I’m gratified that others are looking at this property,” said Ald. Michael Scott Jr. (24th). “I tried to develop that site during the past administration.”

Scott said he worked to get an industrial investor involved there, but a possible $5 million in environmental costs helped kill that project.

Previous administrations have floated various ideas for the land at Roosevelt Road and Kostner Avenue. Former Mayor Richard M. Daley wanted it for movie studios, and Lightfoot has offered it for a city casino.

Green said despite a year of financial losses due to the pandemic, with the possibility they will continue into the 2021 season, the Ricketts family is committed to the venture. He said the Cubs posted a net loss of $100 million this year because of the shortened schedule and the lack of in-person attendance.

“The family is taking a very long-term view as it relates to this investment,” Green said, adding, “We would like to build this in the city of Chicago.”

Green said the campus would include indoor and outdoor play and practice areas, plus community space. He did not offer a jobs estimate.

Commercial or industrial development could create more jobs, but Green said the Cubs’ plan will stand out for its community benefits. “We believe the proposed development has the potential to anchor this intersection as a major youth development hub on Chicago’s West Side,” he said.

The team’s charitable activities center on its Diamond Project, which has committed $8.9 million to 90 capital improvement projects for local sports leagues since 2014. The team also supports a Junior All-Stars program that has improved fields in Garfield, Warren and Humboldt parks.

The White Sox and Chicago Bulls have offered a youth sports complex in Lisle, but it closed permanently this year. The Sox have said the team will continue supporting youth programs around the area.

A view of the property at Roosevelt Road and Kostner Avenue. An abandoned rail line bisects it.
A view of the property at Roosevelt Road and Kostner Avenue. An abandoned rail line bisects it.
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