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MJ statue centerpiece of new United Center office building

The Michael Jordan statue is now in the atrium of the United Center office building.

The Michael Jordan statue is now in the atrium of the United Center office building. | Maria Cardona/ Sun-Times

Fans will no longer have to freeze while taking selfies in front of the Michael Jordan statue, thanks to the latest addition to the United Center campus that’s the product of an “unlikely” community partnership.

The MJ statue that has long been a tourist attraction unto itself is now located in the atrium of the new, five-story office building that officially opened with a ribbon-cutting ceremony Wednesday.

“I would look out here in January and see some of those tourists taking pictures in the middle of January and wonder whether . . . on the brochures, when you write the average temperature in January is 25 degrees, do they think it’s 25 degrees Celsius?” Bulls President Michael Reinsdorf said. “It is insane how many people love to come here and take pictures.”

Blackhawks owners Rocky Wirtz noted that, when his father, Bill, and Bulls Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf joined forces to build the United Center, they never dreamed that the stadium would become “such a tremendous economic boon to the West Side.”

“We continually re-invest back in the United Center — if not inside, outside. Places like the Bulls Advocate Center, the east end expansion which we’re in now and soon to be the community ice rink for the Blackhawks, which should be [open in] December of this year,” Wirtz said.

“It’s been close to a half-billion dollars of private investments made at the United Center campus.”

Earnest Gates, executive director of the Near West Side Community Development Corp., stole the show by talking about his “vivid memories” of his first meeting with Jerry Reinsdorf.

“After a lengthy debate about replacement housing and a community benefits package, Jerry pushed away from the table and he says, ‘I don’t have a moral obligation to rebuild the West Side,'” Gates said.

“Fast-forward 25 years and numerous NBA championships and Stanley Cups later. Millions of dollars have been invested in the Westhaven community in housing, business and retail development . . . . Jerry, you were so wrong. It was the moral courage of Jerry Reinsdorf and Bill Wirtz that made today special.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel took the baton from Gates and ran with it.

“A lot of times when there’s economic development in neighborhoods called gentrification, people think that means you’re displacing people or somehow you’re ruining the character of a neighborhood. This is . . . a transformation of a neighborhood done in partnership,” the mayor said.

“Twenty years ago, we wouldn’t have talked about it as a campus. We were talking about it as a building. You get to a campus when you have a new office building, when you have two new training facilities and both of them have community partnerships and participation. You get to the idea of a campus when you have a new community college just to the south and two new L stops—one to the north, one to the south.”

In 2015, Emanuel’s refusal to extend an expiring United Center property tax break nixed plans for a $95 million retail-and-entertainment complex in the shadows of the stadium.

Instead, the Bulls and Blackhawks agreed to build a standalone office building — with a ground-level retail store and a public atrium connection to the United Center — that will free up space inside the stadium for more entertainment and fan amenities.

With a nudge from Emanuel, Wirtz also mapped plans to build a $50 million practice facility near the stadium with two rinks to accommodate the explosion of youth hockey in Chicago triggered by the Hawks’ three recent Stanley Cup championships.

City Hall subsequently agreed to spend $8 million to demolish the old Malcolm X College to make way for that practice facility and a $500 million “academic village” for Rush University Medical Center that includes a dormitory for 300 students.

Both projects will share the 11-acre site at 1900 W. Van Buren. Four acres will go to the Blackhawks; seven acres to Rush.

Together, the Blackhawks and Rush paid $26.7 million for the land, the value placed on the property by the city’s third-party appraiser. But only $24.3 million of that money was paid in cash; the rest will be a credit for “community benefits.”

City Hall spent $8 million to demolish the old Malcolm X and prepare the site for construction, leaving Chicago taxpayers with a net profit of $16.3 million from the deal.

The atrium will be open between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. on days when there are no events at the United Center. On game or concert days, it’ll be 10 a.m. until one hour after the event ends.

In addition to the MJ statue, the atrium will feature a 10,000-square-foot Bulls and Blackhawks retail store expected to open this summer.

A new entrance will open during the 2017-18 season, along with a sky lounge, cafe and bar. Banquet room, clubs on the main concourse, and more bars and dining options are also planned.