PULLMAN — Down at the decrepit auto pound on 104th and Woodlawn, it's almost as if you can hear the wind whispering through rusty chain link: "If you build it, they will come."
There, a visionary developer backed by an alderman passionate about reviving the historic neighborhood, plan to build an indoor field of dreams that would attract young ballplayers from all over the Chicago region.
They'll call the 138,000-square-foot indoor sports training facility with a $15 million price tag, the Pullman Community Center.
But really, it's way more than that, Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) said.
"This is a game-changer all day long because of what it will do for the development of kids in the area," Beale said. "It's going to be a place that cultivates more smart, professional-caliber athletes who don't get access to sports training for outdoor sports for five or six months a year."
Beale and developer David Doig, head of the not-for-profit Chicago Neighborhood Initiative, spearheaded the Pullman Park development that has already brought Wal-Mart, Planet Fitness, Ross and eco-friendly soap maker, Method, to the former Ryerson Steel property.
"We heard from the community that in addition to the need for retail and jobs, that there was a need for indoor recreational space. A place to practice sports when it's 40 below, or have a family birthday party or run a soccer league in the winter," Doig said.
Growing up, a lot of the kids on my high school baseball team would head to a converted warehouse called "GrandSlam USA" in Glenwood to play in hitting leagues, take private pitching lessons and field ground balls on the tiny indoor turf field.
The complex planned for Pullman puts that long-closed place — and almost every indoor sports training spot in the area — to shame in size alone.
It's big enough for three major league-size baseball infields with short outfields that double as soccer fields, batting cages, a smaller turf field for private lessons, three full-size basketball courts that double as tennis and volleyball courts, meeting rooms and a restaurant all under one roof.
"There's nothing like this on the South Side except for the [90,000-square-foot Chicago Indoor Sports] facility in Bridgeport," Doig said. "You have to go to the suburbs to find anything else that's even close."
And it's not just a field to dream about. Chicago Neighborhood Initiative, with Beale's help, has already raised about $9 million of the construction budget.
Gov. Pat Quinn has committed $5 million of federal disaster relief funding that the state received to cover flood damage cause by Hurricane Ike in 2008 to the center's construction.
Major League Baseball has committed to help fund the project. And "new market tax credits" are expected to cover millions of dollars more in construction costs, Doig said.
Beale said the project has gotten positive responses from professional sports leagues he's lobbied for support.
"The pitch is they're helping an underserved community that doesn't have a lot of access to sports training. For instance, you only have about 67 African-American players in the major leagues and scouts don't usually look to this region for ballplayers," said Beale, a youth sports supporter who revived Roseland's Little League and coaches baseball at Gwendolyn Brooks College Prep.
"Now, we'll have a place to bring colleges and major league teams in to showcase our talented kids in any weather."
And local colleges and Chicago Public School teams that wouldn't otherwise have a place to practice when bad weather hits will be able reserve fields at the Pullman facility, Beale said.
Additional funding for the project is set to be announced at a July 26 ground-breaking ceremony.
"When we build this, Pullman becomes a destination for sports training and not just for the South Side. It's big enough to attract athletes in Indiana, the suburbs and even Wisconsin," Beale said. "Believe me, when it's built they'll come."
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