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Fire plan $90M training, practice center at Hanson Park

The team’s “performance center” will be discussed during a virtual community meeting Thursday that officials call the start of a lengthy process.

A rendering of the Chicago Fire’s proposed performance center at Hanson Park.
A rendering of the Chicago Fire’s proposed performance center at Hanson Park.
Chicago Fire FC

The Chicago Fire soccer club’s plans for a training and practice center at Hanson Park on the Northwest Side include promised improvements for the prep sports stadium on the property and continued public access for some events.

The team’s proposal calls for major improvements to Hanson Stadium, a 2,000-seat facility that would get an inflatable dome for cold-weather events and six other soccer fields for practices and youth sports. The Fire also want to add a three-story building for various club functions.

A team source said the project’s budget is about $90 million and that no public subsidies are being sought. The development would affect a nearly 32-acre site at the southeast corner of Fullerton and Central avenues.

The Fire’s home games would continue at Soldier Field, where the club has a long-term lease.

Details of what the Fire call a “performance center” were posted online by the city’s planning department for review before a virtual town hall meeting Thursday. Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th) will host the 6 p.m. meeting.

Hanson Park includes three public schools, and the club has promised not to interfere with their operation. It also promises improved open space for student use. A community garden on the site’s eastern part would be unchanged. Parking for several hundred cars is expected.

“This is just a starting point,” Villegas said of the coming community review. He said he wants ample opportunity for residents to examine the design and public benefits. He said he likes the prospect of new fields, potentially for baseball as well as soccer, that could help Prosser Career Academy High School.

In its materials for the project, the Fire said it chose the Belmont Cragin site because it has a strong base of soccer fans and the club already runs several programs with local schools. The team has been looking for a city-based location to replace operations in Bridgeview. Joe Mansueto, executive chairman at investment advisor Morningstar, owns the Fire.

“The Chicago Fire Football Club is excited about the prospect of investing in Belmont Cragin and building our performance center in the neighborhood. This is the first step in a long process and we look forward to working with the local community, the City of Chicago and Chicago Public Schools to make this dream a reality,” the team said in an emailed statement.

Hanson Stadium has been little used for years. Villegas said it requires significant repairs to its field and bleachers. The Fire would provide a new artificial surface and replace the old field that Villegas said came from the Chicago Bears years ago went they went with grass at Soldier Field. Of the other fields, three would get natural grass for first-team practices.

A club source said it has no timeline for finishing the project but hopes it can start on it early in 2022. CPS owns the property, so Board of Education approval is needed. The project also needs a zoning change from the city.

Villegas and a club source said the Fire wants to lease the property from CPS, a deal that would add its facilities to the property-tax rolls. Those talks, however, are believed to be at an early stage. “We don’t fully know what their ‘asks’ are at CPS,” one insider said. CPS could not be reached Friday.

The Fire said the project will support 200 construction jobs and be the daily base for 220 team employees.

It has hired Crawford Architects as the lead designer. The firm, with offices in Kansas City, Missouri, specializes in athletic-related projects such as a sports medicine center and hall of fame involving the Minnesota Vikings.

Contributing: Brian Sandalow

Hanson Stadium, 5501 W. Fullerton Ave., as seen in April.
Hanson Stadium, a 2,000-seat facility, would get an inflatable dome for cold-weather events.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file