Lightfoot touts benefits of CHA land deal with Chicago Fire at groundbreaking for team’s West Side training facility

Money the soccer team pays in rent to the housing authority will go toward its projects. “I’d like to make one point crystal clear: CHA will fulfill our commitment to developing new housing in this area,” said CHA CEO Tracey Scott.

SHARE Lightfoot touts benefits of CHA land deal with Chicago Fire at groundbreaking for team’s West Side training facility
A rendering of the Chicago Fire’s training center being built on the Near West Side.

A rendering of the Chicago Fire’s training center being built on the Near West Side.

Provided

Determined to cement her political legacy, Mayor Lori Lightfoot claimed credit Tuesday for having filled “two of the largest parcels of vacant land” on the long-neglected West Side her successor, Brandon Johnson, calls home.

Days before finishing third in the first round of mayoral balloting, Lightfoot had broken ground on a $68 million project intended to transform a notorious 21-acre dump site at Roosevelt and Kostner. It had come to be known as “Mount Henry” for the West Side alderman who allowed the environmental disaster to happen allegedly in exchange for bribes from an FBI mole.

Tuesday, Lightfoot was at another groundbreaking, this time for an $80 million training center the Chicago Fire soccer club is building on 23.3 acres at Roosevelt Road and Ashland Avenue, a site once occupied by the CHA’s ABLA Homes.

The site is bounded by Roosevelt Road, Ashland Avenue, 14th Street and Loomis Street. The 53,000-square-foot facility will include two-and-a-half hybrid grass pitches with a hydronic heating system; three synthetic turf pitches protected by an insulated dome between November and March; and a two story-performance center.

“I’m very proud to say that, with today’s groundbreaking, my administration has now broken ground on two of the largest parcels of vacant land on the West Side. … Which means we are activating over 50 acres of vacant land on the West Side. That’s a total win,” Lightfoot told dignitaries and area residents gathered at the Jane Addams Family Resource Center, 1254 S. Loomis St.

Although Chicago Fire owner Joe Mansueto is “not a guy who seeks out the limelight,” Lightfoot said he “cares deeply about Chicago.”

After moving the Fire’s home games from Bridgeview’s SeatGeek Stadium to Chicago’s Soldier Field, Mansueto, Lightfoot said, has demonstrated his commitment to the city and “heeded my repeated cry to the business community to invest in our city, to invest in our residents.”

The Fire paid $8 million upfront and also will pay rent to the CHA, starting at $800,000 a year, with future increases. The 40-year lease is expected to generate $40 million for the CHA. There also are two 10-year renewal options.

The CHA will use those proceeds to “invest in its housing mission, including the nearby ABLA Brooks Homes, Loomis Courts and William Jones” developments, Lightfoot said.

“It’s great that we build. Jobs will be generated by that. ... But what’s really important and a game-changer is that, when we make these investments, we need to create full-time employment for the residents so they continue to benefit,” the mayor said.

CHA CEO Tracey Scott said the Fire partnership was a “rare opportunity for CHA to reactivate the former ABLA land that has sat vacant for nearly 20 years.”

“I’d like to make one point crystal clear: CHA will fulfill our commitment to developing new housing in this area,” Scott said.

“We get funds to improve ABLA Brooks Homes and Loomis Courts, jobs and exposure to careers, new recreational facilities, green space. And we can build the new housing that we’ve committed to on other vacant CHA and city-owned land. And the city gets a new corporate headquarters with hundreds of workers and jobs and careers. This is win, win, win, win, win as a proposition.”

Scott closed by addressing the Roosevelt Square and ABLA residents in attendance who fought for jobs, internships, public space and other community benefits.

“In five, 10, 20 years, I believe you will look back at this moment as a game-changer for you and your families. Or as [the fictional television soccer coach] Ted Lasso said, ‘Believe,’” Scott said.

Mary Baggett, president of the local advisory committee for ABLA Brooks Homes, put to rest “a lot of rumors” that turned out not to be true.

“There was a lot of rumors saying, ‘Ain’t no housing coming back.’ But there will be housing coming back to Chicago Housing [Authority] public land.”

Last fall, Lightfoot regrouped and won City Council passage of a zoning change for the training center shot down by the Zoning Committee one day before.

Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) subsequently asked Chicago’s Board of Ethics and inspector general to investigate Lightfoot for accepting a $25,000 contribution from Mansueto two months after she muscled the zoning change through a reluctant Council.

Mansueto mentioned none of those controversies during Tuesday’s ceremony.

He would only talk about the “multiyear journey to get to this point.”

“A song comes into my head. A Beatles song ... ‘The Long and Winding Road,’” Mansueto said.

“It was a long and winding road to get here. But fortunately, it has a very happy ending. It took leadership, vision and courage to navigate that road.”

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