WASHINGTON PARK — XS Tennis broke ground Monday on its $9.8 million new facility in Washington Park.
The 112,000-square-foot facility will be built on Chicago Housing Authority land at 5400 S. State St. with construction starting in September.
“We wanted it specifically to be in this neighborhood,” Kamau Murray said at the groundbreaking at Beasley Elementary School, 5255 S. State St.
Murray’s vision would vastly expand to his capacity to more than 4,000 students on 12 indoor courts from the 2,300 students squeezed onto five courts at the former L.A. Fitness building at 1301 E. 47th St.
After tennis lessons, students get tutoring in everything from philosophy to breakdancing.
Bart Schultz, a senior lecturer in philosophy at the University of Chicago and director of the Civic Knowledge Project with two university students who just finished teaching courses in computer coding and breakdancing to 60 XS Tennis students.
Schultz said the tutoring program would also grow, expanding classes on writing, science and math and possibly adding classes on the philosophy of sports and other new programs.
The new facility will have 12 indoor tennis courts. [XS Tennis]
Schultz, like Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) and Mayor Rahm Emanuel, was lured into helping both by Murray’s charisma and his dedication to providing free lessons to kids who can’t pay and helping find college scholarships for all of his students.
Those allies helped secure $2.9 million in tax-increment financing from the city and private financing through the mayor’s connections.
“I couldn’t believe how much money this guy raised in an hour,” Dowell said of Emanuel.
Emanuel said that when the project was 85 percent funded he held a dinner with Les Coney, a top campaign fundraiser for Barack Obama and a vice president at Mesirow Financial, and others in December.
“I told them to lock the doors and said, ‘No one’s leaving until we find $300,000,’” Emanuel said. “And we found $300,000.”
Emanuel said he was wooed to the project by Murray’s commitment to pursuing scholarship money for all of his students, whether it’s for tennis or not.
Murray said he still owes his wife a honeymoon, which has been put off while he works to fulfill his three-year-old promise to get the tennis facility in Washington Park.
“After we open, she will get it,” Murray said.
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