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Chicago Fire soccer training facility plan hits a snag over objections to building on public housing land

A Chicago City Council committee rejected a plan Tuesday to install a training facility for the Chicago Fire soccer team on Chicago Housing Authority land, sending the controversial proposal into limbo.

The Zoning committee voted 7-5 to turn down a revised proposal for the pending development on the Near West Side. But in a surprise move, chair Ald. Tom Tunney, 44th, decided to reconvene the panel Wednesday morning to hold a second vote. Should it pass, it would likely go through the full City Council body later that day.

The proposed 24-acre, $80 million complex would include two hybrid grass pitches and a goalkeeper pitch; an underground heating system; a sand pit; three synthetic turf pitches, one with an inflatable dome for use six months of the year; a two to three story office building, an auxiliary structure for maintenance and storage and a parking structure for 147 vehicles.

But the plan has run into criticism because it would be built on vacant land — bounded by Roosevelt Road, 14th Street, Ashland Avenue and Loomis Street — that’s owned by the Chicago Housing Authority, where the former ALBA Homes housing complex once stood.

Some advocates for public housing, represented by the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, wrote a letter of opposition saying: “In this proposal, land that is promised for desperately needed affordable housing to predominantly serve the needs of Black families will be given to a billionaire with negligible benefits for the thousands of families of color seeking to live in Chicago’s opportunity areas.”

On Tuesday, it appeared those cries were heard by a bloc of progressive aldermen who helped scuttle the plan’s advancement. Ald. Maria Hadden, 49th, said the CHA was not fulfilling its promise to add more affordable housing.

“We had news earlier this year of a colleague of ours, right, who had been on the CHA waitlist for 30 years and finally got a call,” she said, referencing 20th Ward Ald. Jeanette Taylor. “I have a lot of residents in my 75%-renter ward here in the 49th who are on (the) CHA waitlist. We’re dealing with record levels of people experiencing homelessness. It’s just crashing around us. So it’s concerning to me to see such sluggishness.”

Ann McKenzie, a CHA official, said there would be no loss of affordable rental housing from this project so “our commitment remains the same.”

“Housing is what we do,” McKenzie said in response to Hadden. “We actually welcome this as an opportunity to build community and have worked incredibly hard with the Fire to make this something that would push housing. … We actually are embracing this as a solution.”

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The city has a larger plan to redevelop land around the former ABLA Homes into a mixed-use residential and commercial area known as Roosevelt Square. The city would not have to pay anything to the Fire should its deal with the CHA come to fruition, but the soccer team would pay out a 40-year lease with two potential 10-year renewals. The rent will depend on the latest appraised values.

However, some aldermen were concerned the plan does not yet have signoff from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which is usually required when using public housing agency-owned land for other purposes. Thus, even if the project is approved, the federal government could kill it.

Others noted there was no letter of support from the Local Advisory Council or Community Advisory Council, though McKenzie countered that “The Local Advisory Council has been consulted from the beginning of this. We’ve been talking to them about this from February on about this.”

Ald. Jason Ervin, 28th, who presides over most of the area in question, supported the plan as one he hopes will “catalyze development.”

“Concerns that have been raised, I believe, are valid given the state of where things are with CHA and what has transpired over the last almost 20 years into this plan for transformation,” Ervin said. “… I’m glad that the Chicago Fire did step up (with) … helping CHA to deliver on a long-term promise that in many people’s opinion had been broken to the residents of the ABLA community.”

The Fire, under owner and Chairman Joe Mansueto, have been actively searching for a new practice space since agreeing in 2019 to pay Bridgeview $65.5 million to amend their lease at SeatGeek Stadium, where the team still trains. Should the Near West Side facility come to fruition, Chicago Fire games would not change location from Soldier Field.

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