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Special Olympics Chicago Unveils Plans for $31M Complex in Medical District

By Chloe Riley | March 18, 2014 6:59pm
 Illinois Medical District commissioners reacted to Special Olympics Chicago's proposal for a $30 million sports center at a board meeting Tuesday.
Special Olympics Chicago
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MEDICAL DISTRICT — Illinois Medical District commissioners appeared excited at the possibility that a $31 million sports complex for Special Olympics athletes would be built within the district's borders, but raised questions about how such an ambitious project will be funded. 

At a Medical District Commission board meeting Tuesday, representatives from Special Olympics Chicago — a nonprofit for athletes with intellectual disabilities — presented the first public look at plans for the 12-acre facility they hope to open in the south end of the District at 14th Street and Damen Avenue.

Plans for the project currently include a running track, field house, multipurpose field and 2,800-seat stadium with an adjacent 120-car parking lot.

Jay Doherty, president of the City Club of Chicago and a volunteer for Special Olympics Chicago, said he had been in discussions with both Gov. Pat Quinn's and Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s offices about funding for the project, but to date, no money has been raised.

But he said he wasn't worried. The group did just raise more than $1 million through a highly publicized Polar Plunge which made national headlines when "Tonight Show" host Jimmy Fallon took part at Mayor Rahm Emanuel's urging.

“I have absolutely no question that we’ll be able to raise the $31 million,” said Doherty, whose seven-year-old daughter is a Special Olympics athlete.

Included in that cost would be the market rate value of the property, Doherty said.

If approved, the project would aim to be complete before 2018, which would mark the 50th anniversary of the first international Special Olympics games ever held — at Soldier Field in 1968. 

Historically, Special Olympics Chicago has not had a central facility, relying instead on the Chicago Park District and other groups to provide year-round training spaces for its 5,000 athletes.

The commissioners largely refrained from offering opinions on the plan. Commissioner Isaac Goldman asked why the nonprofit had chosen to target the Medical District, while President Jennifer Woodard asked why a swimming pool was not included in the proposed facility.

Special Olympics reps pointed to the Medical District's central location in the city. They also referenced the Easter Seals school for autism, which would be located less than a block away from the proposed sports center.

And Jennifer Kramer, president of Special Olympics Chicago, replied that insurance expenses and availability of park district pools both factored into the group’s decision not to include a swimming pool. 

The next step for the proposal will be a so-called land-use value hearing. No date for that hearing has been set.