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Plan Commission approves $95 million police and fire training academy

Chicago Police Department training academy

A proposed $95 million public safety academy in West Garfield Park would replace the existing training facility at 1300 W. Jackson, which officials say is cramped and outdated. | Sun-Times library

The Chicago Plan Commission took another step Thursday to tie a new mayor’s hands on two inter-related projects that have become symbols of Rahm Emanuel’s misplaced priorities: Lincoln Yards and a $95 million police and fire training academy in West Garfield Park.

Over the jeers of young people who have organized under the #NoCopAcademy label, the Emanuel-appointed commission approved an “institutional planned development” paving the way for construction of the new 500,000 square-foot academy campus on a 30-acre site at 4301 W. Chicago Ave.

The Plan Commission also signed off on two new tax-increment financing (TIF) districts that, together, are expected to generate at least $1.6 billion for infrastructure improvements needed to unlock the development potential of two mega-projects: Lincoln Yards on a riverfront site formerly reserved for manufacturing and the “78,” at Clark Street and Roosevelt Road in the South Loop.

The police academy and Lincoln Yards projects are linked, in part, by an Emanuel financing plan that still has a $37 million gap.

The City Council has appropriated $20 million from the sale of a valuable fleet maintenance facility at 1685 N. Throop St. for the new police academy.

The land is part of Sterling Bay’s $6 billion Lincoln Yards development and was sold to the developer at a time when its property tax appeals were handled by the law firm owned by Ald. Edward Burke (14th).

Artist's rendering of planned public safety training campus in West Garfield Park

An artist’s rendering of the city of Chicago’s planned public safety training campus in West Garfield Park, to replace the city’s police and fire training academies. | City Hall

The tangled web gave the #NoCopAcademy movement yet another opportunity to beef, even though the outcome of Thursday’s vote was never in doubt by a panel dubbed the “Chicago Rubber Stamp Commission” by the protesters.

“We don’t need any more TIF dollars to help the rich get richer. And we do not need to spend TIF money on further militarizing the Chicago Police Department building a new cop academy that includes a shooting range and raid equipment for a department that the DOJ told us is racist and regularly violates the rights of our citizens,” said Kymani Hill of Black Workers Matter.

“We need more jobs and more justice on the job. The last thing we need is more cops. The last thing we need is more money for cops.”

Michael Brunson, recording secretary of the Chicago Teachers Union, branded the police academy project and the massive TIF subsidies for Lincoln Yards and “the 78” part of Emanuel’s grand plan to “leave us with one last poke in the eye.”

“These TIF funds are supposed to be for blighted communities. Is that money going to Englewood? Is that money going to the West Side? Do we need a cop academy?” Brunson said as the crowd behind him shouted, “No!”

“We need jobs. We need money for our schools. We need smaller class sizes. We need libraries and librarians in our schools. We need mental health clinics. We do not need more police. We need more jobs out here so we will have people out here working and not doing other things.”

Mayoral candidate Amara Enyia was there to support the protesters. Her campaign has been elevated by the celebrity endorsement of Chance the Rapper, an outspoken critic of the academy.

Enyia acknowledged inadequate training was a major focus of the U.S. Justice Department’s scathing indictment of the Chicago Police Department and that better and more frequent training is needed to meet demands of the recently-signed consent decree.

But she argued that does not require a new building. She also branded as “patently false” the argument that West Garfield Park would benefit from a community anchor and the security that would come from having hundreds of police officers and firefighters training there.

“We’ve seen what happened when we built the new police districts. That doesn’t spur economic development,” she said.

37th Ward aldermanic candidate incumbent Emma Mitts 2019 election brian jackson

37th Ward aldermanic candidate and incumbent Emma Mitts at a City Council meeting. | Sun-Times files

Local Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) told the Plan Commission just the opposite.

“I’m talking about bringing the ward the things that are asked about most by the young and the not-so-young alike: Jobs, additional resources and hope. The public safety academy will bring this and more. Including community meeting and recreational space open to all,” Mitts said.

“We need this training facility. This will be the very first major city agency facility ever built in the community. … We’ve seen and heard the protesters. … Where is their plan to reduce the relentless violence plaguing our community?”

Once the City Council signs off on a pending design and build contract, the academy would appear to be a done deal.

Bu, Enyia held out the possibility of a court challenge similar to the one that derailed plans to turn the National Teachers Academy into a new South Loop high school.

“The lesson even in that fight was, we never give up. We have to try every possible avenue to make sure that our voice is heard.”