The Chicago Fire is one step closer to having its headquarters inside the city. Yesterday, by a 37-11 vote the Chicago City Council approved the use of 24 acres of land on the CHA property at Roosevelt Square.
The revised plan, which was voted down by the Zoning Committee on Tuesday and then approved the next morning, includes a two to three-story office space and performance center. It will also have 5 and a half fields— two grass and three turf fields for training and academy use; one of which will be dome capable for the winter— plus a half field for goalkeeper use. And around 150 parking spaces plus room for expansion, plus a single-story storage facility for balls, maintenance tools, and the like.
The construction of the facility will be entirely funded by the Fire to the tune of approximately 80 million dollars— there will be no public funds going towards the construction of the buildings, soccer fields, and other facilities. The club would, however, be on the hook for a 40-year lease that would go directly towards the continued development of the surrounding area.
There have been plenty of questions and pushback from housing activists and other concerned parties on this deal, as there should be. In an ideal world, the land would have been turned into affordable housing 15 years ago when the old ABLA Homes were removed from the property. But the fact of the matter is that the CHA has so far failed to deliver its promise to turn the ABLA property into affordable homes.
Part of the negotiating process for this deal was that the rent the Fire would be paying for the land would go towards increasing the pace the CHA develops the rest of the property. And that, along with several community initiatives the Fire has planned (including semi-public use of the turf fields) had residents on their side. Two of the zoning committee members changed their vote from no to yes because of letters received from residential organizations in favor of the proposal, according to an article in the Chicago Tribune.
There is still one roadblock left with the project. Because this is for non-housing, the deal must be approved by the Federal government. The department of Housing and Urban Development could scrap this whole thing if they don’t approve of land owned by the CHA being used for non-residential construction projects. However, there’s no indication that that’s a concern for any party in the negotiation, and once it goes through, the deal can be finished.
One thing to keep in mind here is that this wouldn’t be happening if the CHA was good at doing their job. The lot being leased to the Fire has been vacant for over 15 years with no plans to build on it for the entire time it was vacant, and they’ve been dragging their feet on developing the surrounding land. If this facility can kickstart construction on more housing around it, then it’s a net positive for the area.
And if the Fire continues their community initiatives, including using their development for their youth soccer camp programs and not just their elite academy program, it would be a great benefit to the kids in the area to have a place to play (and working parents who need safe spaces to place their kids while at work).
Could the land have been better used for more residential housing? Yes. But the reality is that the CHA is bad and slow, and it probably was never going to be used for that. If the Fire can use its new headquarters to benefit the community, even better.