NEAR WEST SIDE — Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Chicago Blackhawks Chairman Rocky Wirtz and a host of Near West Side leaders broke ground on the Blackhawks' new $55 million community training center Wednesday.
In addition to serving as practice facility for the team and visiting National Hockey League teams, the new 125,000-square-foot facility will house year-round youth hockey development programs, recreational leagues and events, officials said. The new practice center, being built on a four-acre site that housed the old Malcolm X campus, is slated to open in December 2017.
As part of a $3 million commitment over five years, the Blackhawks organization will provide free ice time, bus transportation, equipment, skating instruction and other support for underprivileged kids. About 94 percent of the time, the facility's two rinks will be used by young adult, youth and community groups in Chicago, not the Blackhawks, a team representative said.
Blackhawks Community Liaison Jamal Mayers, an NHL veteran and 2013 Stanley Cup champion with the Blackhawks, will oversee the team's commitment to provide free programming for the city's kids in need, the team announced.
The Blackhawks will grant substantial ice time to city residents at their new practice center. [Chicago Blackhawks]
The training facility will serve as "the new epicenter" for hockey development in Chicago, Wirtz said.
"While benefiting the Chicago Blackhawks, the vast majority of time the ice will be used by adult, youth and recreational leagues, and programs that support hockey development for underprivileged youth throughout the city,” Wirtz said. “Unlike other sports that can be played on the street or in the park, hockey depends on access to ice, and that remains one of the biggest challenges to growing the sport. By developing this facility, we are investing in youth hockey in Chicago and the future of the sport.”
Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) joked that after his quick recovery from a sucker-punch attack in front of his ward office, he might soon be recruited to help the winning Blackhawks team.
"They saw how fast I got up after they punched me in front of my office. They said if I can play hockey and skate, I may have a chance at a team," Burnett said.
Laughs aside, recent investments on the Near West Side, including the new Blackhawks training center, Malcolm X College campus and a planned new Rush University campus and planned improvements at the Damen "L" stop, will help transform the neighborhood.
"There's a lot of great things happening here on the West Side," he said.
Emanuel, Wirtz, Mayers and Burnett were joined at the groundbreaking ceremony by Blackhawks Chief Executive Officer John McDonough, Near West Side Development Corporation Executive Director Earnest Gates and kids from local youth hockey leagues.
The proposed interior of the Blackhawks practice facility. [Chicago Blackhawks]
Located two blocks south of the United Center, the new Chicago Blackhawks Community Training Center will house two NHL regulation-size ice rinks, spectator seating and a parking lot for facility guests and buses. The project is expected to create 21 permanent and 250 construction jobs, officials said.
Construction of the new training center takes place as United Center leaders will open a new $100 million office building, public atrium and store this year.
The new Malcolm X campus, located across the street, opened in January.
The Blackhawks have won three of the last seven Stanley Cup championships.
The exterior of the planned Blackhawks practice facility on the Near West Side. [Chicago Blackhawks]
Demolition on the old Malcolm X College building is underway. [DNAinfo/Stephanie Lulay]
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