New community center to hone athletic talent breaks ground

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At 104th Street and Woodlawn Avenue, the empty paved, overgrown lot stands as a symbol of a brighter past on Chicago’s far South Side.

A symbolic ground breaking Saturday served as a symbol for the future of the Pullman Community Center.

“This is not piddly diddly, this is really big,” said Gov. Pat Quinn, one of the many at the site celebrating the start of the center.

The $15 million 138,000-square-foot facility focuses talent — both in athletics and otherwise — that, before, could wither rather than thrive.

“When you give children constructive things to do, they will do that. They are not by some innate way attracted to these other things, they aren’t,” Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said. “So the ripple effect here will be amazing.”

Students from nearby Brooks College Prep came to check out the plans, excited for the possibilities.

“I think it’s going to be nice for the community, everybody get off the streets, get to play a little baseball, soccer and whatever else they build there,” Brooks College Prep student David McKnight said.

“They can go somewhere and have fun safely,” another student said. “They need more things like this in the neighborhood.”

Up until now, not having an indoor training center put young athletes at a disadvantage during the long Chicago winters.

“This is going to allow us to put our kids in year-round baseball, we’ll be able to practice here year round,” Brooks College Prep basketball coach Rodney Lopez said. “It’ll be some place for them to go.”

Ald. Anthony Beale, 9th ward, helped put the deal together with $5 million in federal money, which is coming through the state. The rest comes from private donations, including the Chicago Bears. The facility will be operated by the nonprofit Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives.

“Right now, this facility, our kids will be able to work year round, around the clock, 20 hours a day, making sure they have the skills to compete to go to the next level,” Beale said.

“We hope the athletic fields in this facility will serve not only as a great home for spirited athletic competition but for community events and family activities in the years ahead,” said Patrick McCaskey, a member of the Chicago Bears board of directors.

Construction will begin in the next few weeks and should be completed by September 2015.

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