City Council backs Chicago Fire football training facility on CHA land, reversing earlier vote and objections from some public housing advocates

City Council members rejected and then approved a controversial plan to put a training facility for the Chicago Fire football team on Chicago Housing Authority land, an extraordinary change that highlighted the power mayors have to implement their agenda. .

The Zoning committee voted 7-5 Tuesday to reject a revised proposal for pending development on the Near West Side. But in a surprise move, chair Ald. Tom Tunney, 44th, decided to reconvene the panel less than 24 hours later for a second vote.

With more councilmembers in attendance Wednesday, the measure passed 10-5. And a few hours later, after even more debate about whether practice fields for a professional football team were an appropriate use for land once earmarked for affordable housing, the plan was approved by the full council with a vote of 37-11.

The 24 proposed-acre, $80 million complex it would be built where the ABLA public housing complexes once stood. The plans call for two hybrid grass pitches and a goalkeeper pitch; an underground heating system; a sand pit; three synthetic grass courts, one with an inflatable dome for use six months a year; a two- to three-story office building, an auxiliary structure for maintenance and storage, and a parking structure for 147 vehicles.

But moving the plan forward was not easy, as some public housing advocates denounced the proposal and failed attempts by Councilmembers Byron Sigcho-López and Carlos Ramírez-Rosa to block Wednesday’s final vote.

“In this proposal, promised land for desperately needed affordable housing to meet the needs of predominantly black families will be given to a billionaire with negligible benefits to the thousands of families of color seeking to live in Chicago’s opportunity areas.” said a group of opponents, including members of the Chicago Civil Rights Lawyers Committee, wrote in a letter to the City Plan Commission.

On Tuesday, it appeared those cries were heard by a bloc of progressive council members who helped thwart the plan’s advance. Ald. Maria Hadden, 49, said the CHA was not keeping its promise to add more affordable housing.

“We heard earlier this year from a colleague of ours, right, that had been on the CHA waiting list for 30 years and finally got a call,” he said, referring to 20th Ward Ald. Jeanette Taylor. “I have a lot of residents in my neighborhood of 75% of renters here in the 49th that are on the CHA waiting list. We are dealing with record levels of homelessness. It’s just crashing around us. So it worries me to see so much slowness.”

Taylor herself addressed the viral story on the council floor Wednesday as she criticized the CHA’s slow progress on its “Transformation Plan” to revitalize public housing.

”The Transformation Plan has failed. Absolutely no housing has been built,” Taylor said. “CHA has a responsibility not only to come to council but also to do something different. They haven’t done what they’re supposed to do.”

CHA official Ann McKenzie told committee members Tuesday that there would be no loss of affordable rental housing due to this project, so “our commitment remains the same.”

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

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 the Fire anything if its deal with the CHA comes to fruition, but the football team would pay a 40-year lease with two possible 10-year renewals. The rent will depend on the latest appraisal values.

However, some councilmembers were concerned that the plan still does not have approval from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, which is generally required when land owned by public housing agencies is used for other purposes.

CHA spokeswoman Karen Vaughan said in a statement Wednesday that the agency is submitting a request to HUD to review the Chicago Fire plan. Once that is complete, the two parties can sign the lease.

While emphasizing that the number of new public and affordable housing units CHA plans to bring to that area will not change, Vaughan said ABLA Homes residents will benefit from the “great value” provided by the agreement with Chicago Fire.

The proposal also got letters of support from the Local Advisory Council and the Central Advisory Council this week. Three aldermen who voted no on Tuesday: Félix Cardona, 31; David Moore, 17; and Michael Rodriguez, 22, went on to vote yes on Wednesday.

Moore said letters of support from councils representing the remaining residents of ABLA homes won him over, despite his disapproval of CHA’s performance.

“As much as you want to be against something, democracy says you have to listen to the people who represent the people,” Moore said.

Ald. Jason Ervin, 28, who presides over most of the area in question, spoke briefly Wednesday, imploring his colleagues not to let discontent with the city’s public housing agency prevent them from handing over a facility he says , the residents of the last remnants of ABLA Homes want.

as Ald. Moore said, of course, there are some challenges that we’ve all faced with the CHA,” Ervin said. “Please don’t hold that against the residents of Brooks Homes and Loomis Courts apartments.”

Ald. Walter Burnett, who grew up in the Cabrini-Green public housing complex, criticized critics of the Chicago Fire plan, because the tens of millions of dollars the football team would pay the city are expected to benefit affordable housing recipients. , said.

“They (residents) want this, not these people from the suburbs, all these so-called activists who want to tell these poor African-American women what to do,” Burnett said in a booming voice. “I support him because CHA residents support him.”

Meanwhile Aldo. Emma Mitts scolded those who went against Ervin’s council prerogative by opposing a project in his neighborhood that he approved, saying they were “sticking their noses into other people’s business.” Ald. Raymond Lopez, also a 2023 mayoral candidate and critic of Lightfoot, surprisingly agreed even though he usually butts heads with Ervin, a mayoral ally.

The Fire, under the direction of owner and president Joe Mansueto, has been actively seeking a new practice space since agreeing in 2019 to pay Bridgeview $65.5 million to modify its lease on SeatGeek Stadium, where the team still trains. If the Near West Side facility comes to fruition, Chicago Fire games would not change Soldier Field’s location.

In his usual post-City Council news conference, Lightfoot defended the Fire facility, saying it will be built on vacant land for which there is no plan.

“We have an investor who is not only willing to invest, building the Chicago Fire team headquarters, keeping them in the city, which is important, they will also have a variety of opportunities for junior soccer players to engage more kids,” she said.

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Lightfoot also praised Mansueto for investing in neighborhoods like Humboldt Park.

The sequence of events leading up to the approval of the training center was unusual. Often, when measures pushed by mayors meet resistance or lack votes, City Council committees go into recess until they can muster enough support for the issue. In this case, the council members rejected the bill in committee, which usually means the ordinance dies.

But not this time, as Tunney called the matter back for reconsideration.

Over the past year, some members of the City Council have criticized the way the legislative body works. Unlike other legislatures, the City Council does not have its own attorney or independent parliamentarian, allowing mayors and their allies to control the pace of passage of ordinances. Some have pointed to this as an example of bad governance.

An opposition councilman, Anthony Beale, 9th, complained that he had “never seen a roll call vote go into committee and get thrown out, and then because we don’t like the outcome of the vote, we come back together to have another vote. vote the next day.

A city attorney countered that Wednesday’s meeting was merely a “continuation” of the previous day’s and that the motion to reconsider the vote was appropriate.

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