Alderman says Chicago Fire eye Hanson Park, stadium, for training centerDavid Roederon April 27, 2021 at 10:38 pm

Hanson Stadium, 5501 W. Fullerton Ave., is being considered as a training site for the Chicago Fire soccer club, said Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th).
Hanson Stadium, 5501 W. Fullerton Ave., is being considered as a training site for the Chicago Fire soccer club, said Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th). | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

The property in Belmont Cragin serves as a campus for three schools and as a host for prep sporting events.

The Chicago Fire have inquired about using Hanson Park, a large public parcel that includes three schools and a stadium used for prep athletic events, as a training center for its players, a Northwest Side alderman said Tuesday.

Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th) said the soccer club began “very preliminary” discussions with him Monday about Hanson or other locations in Belmont Cragin. He said he shared initial details with some community leaders and gotten positive feedback.

But he said any pact with the Fire will raise complicated issues. Hanson Park serves as a campus for two elementary schools and one high school, Prosser, and any agreement with the Fire must involve public benefits, Villegas said.

“A point of the proposal would be to invest in the stadium,” he said. Villegas said Hanson Stadium, a prep sports venue for decades at 5501 W. Fullerton Ave., needs substantial repairs and its turf is in poor shape. “I threw out a first pitch and I twisted my ankle there,” he said.

“At the end of the day, my community members will have to determine if this is what they want to see.”

Villegas declined to mention other sites in Belmont Cragin or his ward that were raised with the Fire.

The Chicago Public Schools owns Hanson Park and the stadium. CPS officials provided no comment Tuesday.

“The devil is in the details. We will have to find out what they [the Fire] want and what CPS wants,” Villegas said.

Fire spokesman Sean Dennison declined to comment beyond an email that said, “As we have previously stated, the club is exploring various locations for a potential performance center. If we have more to share, we’ll do that at the appropriate time.”

The Fire practices at the former site of its home games in Bridgeview, what’s now called SeatGeek Stadium. Its lease at the publicly owned facility expires in late 2036, but there are options for early cancellation.

The MLS club has been trying to get closer to its fan base. Villegas said the Fire identified Belmont Cragin as a preferred site for a training center because soccer is popular with its growing Latino population. Many Polish people also live nearby.

The club’s home games are at Soldier Field under a lease signed with the Chicago Park District in 2019. Play began there last year under a lease that, with renewal options, could last for 11 years.

Under owner Joe Mansueto, the Fire has said any training facility would emphasize community events and programs and not be a walled-off facility for its athletes. In January, he told the Chicago Sun-Times, “I think the long-term goal is to have a training facility somewhere in the city, and so we are looking for land, 20-25 acres. Unfortunately, in a well-developed city like Chicago there’s not a lot of large parcels lying around, but we’ve been looking for the past year.”

Mansueto said Bridgeview and its mayor, Steven Landek, have been “great partners” and he expects the team will remain in the village in some form. “At the same time, I think the Chicago Fire should have a major training facility in the city. We are looking. I don’t have anything to announce today, but we are out there looking and we hope to make progress on that front in 2021,” he said.

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