If ever there was a real-life field of dreams, it opened in Pullman Thursday, courtesy of local Ald. Anthony Beale (9th).
After nearly a decade of planning and a frenzied round of corporate fundraising, a $20 million, 135,000-square-foot sports, recreation and educational center opened its doors Thursday at 10355 S. Woodlawn Ave.
The massive U.S. Bank Pullman Community Center is one of the largest indoor sports facilities in Illinois and the fifth-largest in the country. It includes three basketball/tennis courts and three synthetic turf fields that can be used for baseball, football and soccer.
The facility also includes community meeting rooms and classroom space.
“We’re looking at keeping 1,100 kids a week off the streets, doing something positive and constructive. A facility that’s gonna be open probably 12 to 14 hours a day. That gives people opportunity. It gives ’em hope,” Beale said Thursday.
“If you’re struggling in school and you’re enrolled in this facility, we’re gonna provide free ACT, SAT and tutoring in whatever subject that you need.”
When Beale was growing up playing baseball, he was forced to play on choppy, rock-filled, substandard fields.
The same thing happened when he coached his own son. They had to trek to suburban Lisle at 10 p.m. on a school night just to get some indoor work in during the cold winter months.
“I was like, if I’m in a position [to help], let me try and do something to change that, [so] kids can come to our community instead of traveling outside the community. Why can’t we have it here? Everybody else has it. Why not us?” the alderman said.
Thursday’s ceremonial groundbreaking was more like a pep rally celebrating Beale’s decade-long crusade.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel played a pivotal role in convincing corporations to contribute to the facility.
But, the mayor said the spotlight belongs to Beale, who turned a vacant pile of dirt into a beacon of hope for the kids of Pullman, Roseland and the Greater South Side — and he recalled that day when the alderman first showed him the site.
“I said, ‘Anthony, I have been with you on the Whole Foods distribution center from Indiana. I’ve been with you on the Method factory that was going to Battle Creek and we brought it here. The Walmart facility. The Gotham Green facility. … [But] this one is a little far for me,” Emanuel said.
“But this is a classic case of a field of dreams. If you build it, they will come. … If you look at the crowd here, it’s either got to be really cold out there and you can’t find anyplace else warm. Or there’s something really special happening in Pullman and Roseland. Pullman and Roseland are rising.”
The mayor added: “You have to have somebody just crazy enough to look at a dirt field … and have a vision. … Kids cannot be what they cannot see. They used to drive by and see a dirt field. Nothing. Empty. Years. And they internalize that. Now, they’re gonna internalize, ‘That’s where I go after school. That’s where I go this summer. That’s where I go to get a tutor. That’s where I go get my entire community that cares about me.’”
When Emanuel was done with a rousing speech that sounded like a sermon, Beale couldn’t help but joke about the mayor’s lame-duck status.
“Was that a re-election speech? We’d get about a thousand signatures here today,” the alderman said.
Although the center was built without city money, it would not have been possible without a $2 million contribution from the Chicago Housing Authority. In exchange, 10 percent of all slots will be free to CHA residents, Beale said.
New market tax credits, borrowing that left a $2.5 million mortgage and corporate largesse also provided giant pieces of the puzzle.
Those donations included U.S. Bank, which donated the land where the center was built ($6 million); Ford Motor Co. ($2.5 million); Exelon ($1 million); the Chicago Cubs ($500,000); the Bears (roughly $300,000).
The center will be owned by the Chicago Park District and, therefore, exempt from paying what could have been a $400,000 property tax bill.
The Park District will maintain the building’s exterior. The Roseland Youth Center is in charge of interior maintenance and programming; it starts with an annual operating budget of $1.3 million.
“My son tells me all the time he wished I would have [done] this when he was in Little League. Now, he’s helping me coach,” Beale said Thursday.
“I never thought it would take this long. It’s just unbelievable to see it come to fruition.”
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