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December 9, 2012By Josh Kovensky
Reposted from Chicago Weekly
Alderman Cochran steps up to the plate for the Chicago Sports Village
They say it takes a village to raise a child. But what does the child say about the village? What if the village happens to be a testosterone-fueled 300 million dollar megalopolis of athletics conceived by a boisterous alderman and located in one of Chicago’s roughest neighborhoods? What then? The real answer may come in a few years, when the Chicago Sports Village opens its doors (and its courts) on the city’s South Side.
Twentieth Ward Alderman Willie Cochran is spearheading the project. His ward is a gerrymandered oddity mostly covering Woodlawn, Washington Park, and Englewood, with a segment snaking up to Back-of-the-Yards. Cochran hemorrhages enthusiasm about the Village and its destined effects on the area. He sees the project as a “game-changer for the South Side and Chicago…an opportunity to give pride back to the neighborhood.”
To develop the project, Cochran has teamed up with Paul McDermott of Creative Transformations Group, a Chicago-based development firm devoted to “extraordinary projects.” Although McDermott has extensive experience with Chicago-area sports development, CTG has only been on the scene since 2010. As of yet, none of its projects have come to fruition.
According to CTG’s plans, the base of the facility will be a large indoor track, complete with seating for 5,000 spectators. The rest of the features read like a juicehead Christmas list granted by Santa on steroids. The Village will have something of an international flair—three multipurpose fields serving football (presumably configured to American, Australian, and Canadian varieties), lacrosse, rugby, and soccer. Two baseball and softball diamonds will be supplemented by batting cages. Basketball and volleyball courts will be there too. Those who love to fence, be martially artistic, and play ping pong will also be provided with relevant facilities.
Water-wise, the Village will contain enough gallons to be considered coastline. The aquatic sports center comes with a 50 meter competition pool and two practice pools, as well as a rowing training center featuring training tanks for virtual crew meets. Elsewhere, a 15,000 square foot golf training center will come replete with a 20 bay driving range, simulators, a rooftop mini course, and a members-only club to preserve the elitism that comes naturally with golf.
And how complete could any athletic body be without MASSIVE blood flow to the EXTREMITIES? The plan calls for a 200,000 square foot indoor BMX and skateboarding center fit to host ESPN’s X-games, as well as a hockey and skating center with a competition rink and two practice rinks for those whose skills are either underdeveloped or frosty.
Because the above apparently does not whet Cochran’s insatiable appetite for sports, McDermott plans on festooning the complex with a year-round outdoor ski and snowboarding slope, allowing users to slalom down former slums for a nominal fee. Such a fee will probably be necessary—McDermott estimates that construction alone will cost 50 million dollars.
Hormones aside, Cochran stressed that the project remains in the conceptual stage. But McDermott sounded surer, saying that investors have already been lined up, and that a plot of land has been chosen. When asked about the parallel to Chicago’s failed Olympic bid, Cochran stated that the project does come in the wake of the bid, and aims to make use of the same qualities that made the area attractive to the Olympic developers: “The project is connected in that Washington Park is just as attractive with its transportation, community benefits, and access.”
So will the facility be in Washington Park itself, like the Olympic bid? Cochran answers with a resounding “no,” limiting the area to the Washington Park and Englewood neighborhoods. McDermott reckons the size at 80 acres, covering roughly eight city blocks of space. Oddly enough, neither neighborhood has 80 acres of open space to use, meaning that at least some occupied residences will have to be demolished to make way for the Village. Cochran said that most of the land parcels will be taken from empty lots and abandoned homes, turning symbols of urban decay into a springboard for community rehabilitation.
The humble and unathletic observer might also hazard the question of how all this will be paid for. Mr. McDermott, who speaks like the audiobook version of Mitt Romney’s resume, downplayed the amount of public funding involved, calling it “minor,” saying that the project relies almost exclusively on private investment. However, McDermott and Cochran appear slightly at odds on this point. Alderman Cochran, the self-styled “originator” of the project, stated that it would draw on “whatever funding necessary,” including public funding. He did stress that the public aspect would be in the minority, and would consist primarily of Tax Increment Funding (TIF).
When a private company plans a development project in a blighted area, the city can cleave a TIF district for them out of the legislative void. Development within the district receives subsidies from the government, but only in the form of the projected rise in property taxes due to the fiscal effects of the development. In this way, a public-private partnership can go into action with funding from the government’s predicted property revenue due to the development.
TIFs come under near perpetual criticism, however, for allowing overuse of eminent domain laws and for distributing money to developers while ignoring the increased strain placed on public infrastructure. For example, increased property values may lead to higher population density, which would require bigger schools and more police stations to be built on the same budget as before. The 2016 Olympic bid relied largely on TIFs, and came under heavy fiscal flak for that reason.
Although the Village will probably take the majority of its funding from private investors (all of whom request anonymity), the specter of public funding for this kind of project still looms. Tom Tresser, one of the leaders in the campaign against Chicago’s Olympic bid, cautioned: “Be VERY wary of so-called public-private partnerships that involve public land and precious public funds. When I hear that term I usually see some developer’s scheme that can’t be done in the regular marketplace and is a cover for sucking at the public tit.”
To milk the problem further, such a development would also cause property values to spike, which is, in fact, what TIFs rely on. Gentrification in other areas has been met with opposition, and some would certainly protest that the rich cultural history of Englewood and Washington Park may be erased by an influx of new residents who could push the old out. On top of all this, the facility will be for-profit. And of course, with a 300 million dollar price tag, one can wonder if there are more pressing monetary concerns in a ward with mostly failing and overcrowded public schools.
In spite of such concerns, Cochran and McDermott envision the Village and the area as a land of athletic milk and honey. Alderman Cochran pointed out that the space is intended for the public, and as a result will make use of public funding. To that end, elements of the facility will be free. According to McDermott, the facility will be run by an overarching non-profit group, meaning that the profits reaped will be sown back into the pockets of investors, with the residual gleanings of cash going to maintaining the facility. McDermott described the Village as “Disneyland with free entry,” with only larger events and snazzier facilities like the ski slope costing visitors.
Cochran is especially keen on improving Chicago Public Schools’ athletic facilities and intends for the facility to address this. “We have schools making kids run in the hallways [for gym]…and no indoor track facility.” Beyond this, the Village will offer education programs for local kids and a number of sponsored scholarships for students, as well as training facilities for umpires and coaches, and a sports academy made especially for girls ages four to fourteen. As Cochran said of his passion and promotion for the project, “I have athletics in my DNA … the project comes from my past and my love of athletics.”
In order to build such a towering sports complex, presumably grown from the alderman’s own genetic material, the project will need 1000 jobs for construction in order to meet its target completion date in late 2014, as well as 800 staff members to run. Although it is unclear how many staff positions will require highly specialized labor, both Cochran and McDermott are excited about the economic benefits of the project.
Legitimate concerns do remain about the project, especially given the optics of having a facility of such extravagance situated in one of the city’s poorest areas. The question of funding also lingers, as well as the perpetual debate over what constitutes development and what constitutes gentrification. However, as Yogi Berra said, “If the world were perfect, it wouldn’t be.” The Chicago Sports Village seems extravagant to the max, and will most likely become something of a behemoth on the South Side, assuming that currently tentative plans score their way into reality. Will the South Side’s sports Village hit a home run, or go down swinging?
On Wednesday, September 26, 2012, Alderman Willie B. Cochran convened the first 20th Ward Education Task Force Meeting where a combination of over 30 Principals, Assistant Principals, Teachers, Family and Community Engagement Managers, and one Network Chief of Schools gathered to discuss the educational concerns and needs of our Ward.
The purpose of the Education Task Force is to help create a positive learning environment and concentrate on providing a healthy, safe, and supportive educational setting that addresses the needs of the students of the 20th Ward. With a targeted mission to work collaboratively to ensure that students of our ward have access to adequate resources, an improved knowledge base, and safe school zones, the 20th Ward Education Task Force is ready for action.
At our inaugural meeting four functions for the Task Force were immediately identified for direct action. Those functions include creating a School Safe Zone Ordinance to eliminate the use of “fire arms” on school property; the opportunity to address gangs and violence surrounding Chicago Public Schools with representatives from the Chicago Police Department; identifying resources and creating opportunities to address the social and emotional issues of our ward; and to addressing the possibility of school closings by the Chicago Board of Education in the 20th Ward.
Prior to the close of the meeting, Alderman Cochran adjusted the agenda for open discussion and items brought to the table by the attendees included a very special thanks to Alderman Willie B. Cochran for convening this group of educators who can gather to share their concerns and vision for an improved 20th Ward; a special thanks to Principal Cynthia Miller for serving as our host;, and kudos to the Alderman from teachers who are excited about the chance to collaborate with other teachers for shared “best practices,” resources, and much more.
Our next meeting will be held during the month of
November (TBD) at the Hamline Elementary School located at 4747 South Bishop, Chicago, Ill.
60609. For more
information please contact Phyllis P. Hayes, Education Coordinator, 20th
Ward, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Seminar on October 13 Provided Wealth of Resources and Information
for Concerned Community Members
CHICAGO – Alderman Willie B. Cochran conducted a 20th Ward Troubled Buildings Seminar on Saturday, October 13, 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., at Hyde Park Academy, 6220 S. Stony Island Avenue.
“I am confident that working together we can significantly improve conditions in areas where abandoned buildings, drug and gang houses, and other troubled properties daily threaten the health and safety of our families,” said Alderman Cochran.
“I am working closely with the Chicago Police Department, Department of Buildings, Department of Law, the Chicago Housing Authority, other city agencies, and organizations such as the Community Investment Corporation (CIC) and the Metropolitan Tenants Organization (MTO) to ensure that effective steps to address this problem are identified and taken in the 20th Ward,” Cochran added. “All who attend this seminar will leave with the knowledge a game plan to make our neighborhoods safer and stronger is in place.”
The seminar included special “Winning with Foreclosures” and “Exit Gracefully” presentations by real estate professional, author and consultant Marki Lemons-Ryhal. “We cannot stem the tide of troubled buildings without stemming the flood of foreclosures in our communities,” states Alderman Cochran, “and Marki Lemons-Rhyal is the outstanding expert in this area. You will not want to miss these sessions and others covering key concerns.”
Alderman Willie Cochran applauds the new Free Fare Card Pilot program for students in five Chicago public high schools. One of five participating schools is TEAM Englewood, located in the 20th Ward, which is another step the City is taking to support Chicago’s students and ensure they are able to get to school on time and take advantage of the new full school day every day this year.
“Anything that helps our students get to school on time and ensure they are in the classroom is a wonderful thing,” said Alderman Cochran. “Any 20th Ward residents with students at TEAM Englewood High School should make sure to ask school administration about this program.”
The free fare card pilot program will allow 500 CPS students to ride public transportation for free. Currently, all CPS students are eligible to apply for a Student Riding Permit, which provides them with reduced fares on CTA buses and trains from 5:30AM to 8:30PM on schooldays.
Last week, the CTA and CPS partnered to extend reduced CTA fares for CPS students by an additional 30 minutes each day for the full school day, ensuring that students won’t need to choose between taking advantage of the reduced fare and participating in after-school sports or clubs. And just this morning, CTA announced its first multi-year sponsor for its “First Day, Free Rides” program, which provides free CTA bus and train rides for CPS students to and from school on the first day of school for the majority of students, this year September 4, 2012.
Each school has more than 90% of students receiving free/reduced lunch, a
high percentage of student commuters, and invested school principals who are
willing to implement the program.
The program begins for the 500 students immediately. Principals at each school will work to identify students for the pilot program. If you have a student at TEAM Englewood, be sure to ask about this program.
CHICAGO- Saturday, hundreds of children, adults,
and seniors poured into Washington
Park for Alderman Willie
B. Cochran’s 20th Ward Annual 2012 Back-to-School Picnic.
The festivities boasted a variety of food, games, clowns, live band,
gospel choir, and even horses.
At the picnic, Alderman Cochran provided more
than entertainment and school supplies for residents of Woodlawn, Englewood, and Back of the
Yards neighborhoods, he gave a boost of hope.
Picture of Alderman Cochran with Senator Durbin, Chancellor Hyman, Julie Stash-McArthur Foundation, Suzanna Vasquez-Local Initiative Support Corporation, celebrating the grand opening of the Center For Working Families.
Alderman Cochran started pursuing this initiative two years ago and saw it come into reality in October. This is an outstanding accomplishment for the City Colleges, being the first in the nation to incorporate a CFWF on a college campus, utilizing the curricula and career offerings at the school to advance and improve the quality of life for residents who are interested in taking advantage of the new center.
The Hull House is one of the partners with the City of Chicago, LISC and three New Community Programs (Woodlawn, Washington Park Consortium and Teamwork Englewood).
Please click on the following attachments to view a Powerpoint presentation about the Washington Park TIF and an Acquisition List Facts document also shared at community meetings. For additional information, please call 773-955-5610