The Chicago Fire, thwarted in its plan to build a training and practice center on the Northwest Side, said Thursday it has begun discussions with the city about putting it on the Near West Side instead.
The soccer club, owned by business leader Joe Mansueto, is looking at about 30 acres of vacant land within the Roosevelt Square area. The Chicago Housing Authority property is generally bounded by Roosevelt Road, Ashland Avenue, 14th Street and Loomis Street.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot praised the project but didn’t answer questions about funding or city subsidies. A joint release from the team and the city said they are discussing a long-term lease under which the Fire would build a multimillion-dollar facility that would yield community benefits.
“We’re, first of all, very grateful to Joe Mansueto and the entire Chicago Fire team, who’ve worked really diligently with the CHA and our team to make sure that this facility stayed in the city of Chicago. It’s a great testament to the fact that the Chicago Fire is very committed to the city of Chicago,” Lightfoot said at an unrelated news conference.
“It’s gonna have a lot of incredible benefits to the residents in the immediate area near the former ABLA homes and also rebound to the benefit of the city. We are working with them on a number of different aspects. But first things first. ... We need to engage with the community to make sure … we understand from them what their needs are.”
Tracey Scott, CEO of the housing authority, said it views the deal “as an opportunity to invest in our families and in this community. By repurposing this unused land, we can secure substantial funds to rehabilitate CHA housing and develop new affordable housing while also creating employment opportunities for our residents and community members.”
Officials said community meetings to discuss the project’s design will begin in March. The development has the support of the neighborhood’s alderperson, Jason Ervin (28th).
“I am excited to join Mayor Lightfoot, CHA, and the Chicago Fire Football Club to explore using this open space to support affordable housing, employment and recreation on the Near West Side,” Ervin said.
The Fire had tried to get the facility at Hanson Park at Fullerton and Central avenues. The property is owned by the Chicago Public Schools, which did not agree to a lease for the 32 acres that include Hanson Stadium. CPS officials have been unavailable for comment on the matter.
The Fire had talked about a $90 million investment at Hanson Park.
For the Near West Side, the Fire said it plans world-class practice fields and a performance center where team members prepare for matches. It also promises a home for the Fire’s Youth Academy, offering programs for children, teens, and young adults in CHA housing and the broader community.
The property was part of the CHA’s ABLA Homes, which is being replaced by the mixed-income Roosevelt Square development.
“We look forward to presenting the project to the local community, hearing their feedback, and creating new opportunities for residents of the Near West Side to enjoy the game,” said Fire President Ishwara Glassman Chrein.
The land available to the Fire is immediately north of Addams Park, which has the ComEd Recreation Center. The park’s footprint and facilities would not change, said CHA spokesman Matthew Aguilar.
Asked why his agency wasn’t using its vacant land for housing, he said, “The area is already heavily concentrated with federally subsidized housing. CHA sees this proposal as complementary to residential use and in line with mixed-use community development. It puts unused land to active use that delivers benefits to CHA families. Lease payments would fund much-needed substantial rehab work on public housing units in the immediate area.”
The developer of Roosevelt Square is Related Midwest, which works under contract with the CHA. Sarah Wick, vice president of affordable housing for Related Midwest, said new homes were expected on the acreage offered to the Fire. But building subsidized homes is a slow process, requiring funding from the city, state and the CHA that’s limited, she said.
“We weren’t in the room when this transpired,” Wick said of the soccer club’s plans. “In general, we are excited about the opportunity, but it does involve revising the use previously slated for that land, which was housing.”
She said that in its nearly 20 years of involvement at Roosevelt Square, Related has put up or started work on nearly 900 residential units out of an eventual goal of more than 2,900. They included units rented at market rates and at subsidized rates for lower-income tenants and those reserved for CHA residents.
“Each one of these development phases takes a lot of time and resources to pull together,” she said. In the meantime, bringing in the Fire’s facility should help the community by providing jobs and recreational space, Wick said.