By Bonnie Jean Adams and William S. Bike
Opposition continues to a plan by Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the Chicago Housing Authority to provide approximately 25 acres of CHA land to the Chicago Fire soccer team for a training facility in the Roosevelt Square area, with opponents crying foul over a donation to Lightfoot’s mayoral campaign by the Fire’s owner.
The land previously held some of the CHA’s ABLA (Addams-Brooks-Loomis-Abbott) Homes, which housed thousands of mostly low-income African American families. When the City demolished the homes in 2007, Chicago and Federal leaders promised the displaced families that they would come back to new housing and a revitalized community on the Near West Side.
Sixteen years later, after building fewer than a third of the new units promised, Lightfoot and the CHA—with the City Council’s approval—are planning to grant a decades long lease to Joe Mansueto’s Chicago Fire Soccer Team. Mansueto is an entrepreneur and founder of investment firm Morningstar Inc.
Construction would include an $80 million practice facility consisting of six soccer fields and a building for training and business offices. The property is part of Addams/Medill Park and bounded by Roosevelt Road, Ashland Avenue, 14th Street, and Loomis Street and primarily sits in the 28th Ward. The CHA would retain ownership of the site.
In mid-November, as City officials worked to finalize the land deal, Mansueto donated $25,000 to the mayor’s re-election campaign. According to election disclosure records, Mansueto had never given to Lightfoot’s political fund before his November 17 contribution, and he made the donation the same week Mayor Lightfoot released the first ads in her bid for reelection.
A coalition led by the Lugenia Burns Hope Center and including Access Living, Bethel Mennonite Church, the Chicago Housing Initiative, the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, the Metropolitan Tenants Organization, community residents, and public housing residents, held a news conference recently outside Morningstar’s downtown headquarters to protest.
In a statement, the coalition criticized “Mayor Lightfoot, who has shown her true colors by putting corporate interest over constituent needs…Billionaire Joe Mansueto repaid Mayor Lightfoot by donating $25,000 to her re-election campaign. Pay to play?”
Sharing concerns about the impropriety of this donation’s timing is 25th Ward Alderman Byron Sigcho-Lopez, who told Gazette Chicago, “We are calling on the Board of Ethics to investigate the political contributions that Mayor Lightfoot received while a CHA land grab 40-year lease was taking place without proper documentation or community involvement with surrounding ABLA residents.”
Alderman Ray Lopez (15th Ward) formally filed the complaint with the Chicago Board of Ethics and Chicago Inspector General’s Office.
The Board of Ethics administers Chicago’s governmental ethics and campaign financing ordinances, designed to ensure City officials and employees avoid conflicts of interest. When contacted, Richard J. Superfine, the Chicago Board of Ethics legal counsel, said he could not discuss—nor confirm nor deny—an ethics complaint’s filing.
Unlike his colleagues Aldermen Sigcho-Lopez and Lopez and the coalition, 28th Ward Alderman Jason C. Ervin favors the soccer plan. “I see this as bringing a world class professional organization to Chicago and to our community as a great opportunity for the re-development of our community, creating jobs and helping businesses,” Ervin told Gazette Chicago. “We listen to the residents we serve and do the best for them. As part of the planning, we ensured that there would be no loss of CHA housing units. This would be a lease for 40 years, with an option to renew.”
Representatives from the Chicago Fire Soccer Team declined an interview but issued this statement: “Working within and giving back to communities across the Chicagoland area is a core value of the Chicago Fire Football Club. Since the inception of the performance center project, we have been highly engaged with residents and key stakeholders on the Near West Side to ensure the performance center has a positive impact on the community and provides numerous benefits to the area, such as additional funds for housing, safe spaces for youth to participate in free sports programming, and employment opportunities for residents.”
Opponents remain concerned that details of the proposal between the CHA and Chicago Fire Soccer Team have not been forthcoming to either City Council members or community representatives. Mathew Aguilar, senior manager of communications at the CHA, responded to this concern by saying, “CHA has been negotiating with the Fire to get the best possible deal for the agency and our residents, and we are continuing to finalize the lease. Once completed, the full lease will be posted to our website.”
In its statement the coalition asserted, “The CHA has not met its obligation of returning the replacement housing that Chicago residents were promised. The promise was for 775 public housing units at the ABLA Homes site and, to date, only 245 have been returned.”
The coalition statement noted ABLA once housed 3,596 families, but “only six percent of the housing that was once there has been returned…These are the same anti-Black policies that continue to push Black Chicagoans out of Chicago. The majority of CHA residents are Black; the less units CHA returns, the less housing is made available for Black people.”
Not only Blacks are affected, noted Cathleen O’Brien of Access Living, who said, “Chicago needs to prioritize people with disabilities, people of color, and seniors over a soccer team.”
At the coalition’s protest outside Morningstar, Hope Center executive director Rod Wilson also noted the soccer field deal would make it more difficult for those with disabilities to obtain public housing.
Mansueto’s holdings also include the Wrigley Building, the historic Belden-Stratford Apartments in Lincoln Park, and a $50 million investment in The Terminal, an office campus in the Humboldt Park neighborhood.
For the Chicago Fire, log on to www.chicagofirefc.com. For Ervin, log on to www.aldermanervin.com. For the Lugenia Burns Hope Center, log on to www.lbhoecenter.com. For Sigcho-Lopez, log on to www.25thward.org.