Esports has been touted as having one of the largest fan bases in all of American sports — second only to the National Football League.
Now that fast-growing sport could be coming to Chicago’s Bronzeville community.
The City Council’s Zoning Committee on Tuesday gave final zoning approval to Surge, a $30 million esports and virtual reality arena.
If pandemic restrictions ease and allow increased capacity at the arena, Lincolnshire-based developer Scott Greenberg plans an immersive experience for up to 1,040 people, including game participants and spectators.
The 108,000 square foot arena — with restaurant and bar service, free-roaming space for virtual reality and technology for national broadcasts — would be built without city subsidies at 2500-2548 S. Wabash Ave., just across I-55 from McCormick Place.
“We hope to get under construction sometimes this year — hopefully,” local Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) told her colleagues.
Dowell is “excited” about the developer’s commitment to minority participation in contracts and about the esports technology and design partnerships Greenberg has promised to building with local schools, including the National Teachers Academy, Drake Elementary, serving the children of Dearborn Homes, and Wendell Phillips High School.
Aldermen from across the city congratulated Dowell on luring the potential tourist mecca.
Their only concern: If it’s too big a draw, there won’t be enough parking for spectators and participants.
“I want to encourage the alderman to be looking for some off-site parking because this thing is gonna take off, based on what I’ve seen online and the research that I’ve done on esports. It’s really amazing,” said Ald. Anthony Beale (9th).
“Just hold onto your bootstraps, alderman. This is gonna be a wonderful project. It’s gonna take off and do wonderful things for you ward. Esports is the way of the future. If you look at some of these esports tournaments, they are amazing and well-attended. I don’t think we’re gonna have enough parking in the immediate area.”
Attorney Graham Grady, a former city zoning administrator now representing Greenberg, assured Beale that, besides 90 on-site spaces, the developer has leased 25 parking spaces beneath the nearby CTA Green Line tracks, and arranged for 100 more spots at a church a few blocks away.
Greenberg also is communicating with “a very large” private parking operator “in the event that we need that,” Grady said. “We are prepared for overflow parking when this place takes off.”
North Side Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) doesn’t doubt the esports arena will draw people to that part of Bronzeville and Motor Row.
“Congratulations on the first of its kind in Chicago and probably the biggest around in our area,” Osterman told Dowell. “As the father of teenage boys, I know more about esports than I care to.”
South Side Ald. David Moore (17th) hasn’t played video games “since Atari,” but plans to bring his nieces and nephews.
“This is huge for Chicago. It’s gonna help push some of that tourism further south so the southern parts of our city can get the benefits as well,” Moore said.