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Pullman Community Center: Latest Development in Far South Side Transformation

By: Gordon Walek
Published: August 15, 2014

When the Pullman Community Center, a $15 million recreational facility at 104th and Woodlawn, opens next fall it’ll be the latest in a string of developments to pull the historic Far South Side community into the 21st century. 

The Pullman Community Center will feature ....

Construction of the community center, on 12 vacant acres donated by U.S. Bank, is expected to begin this fall. It will include three full-sized indoor multi-sport fields, making it the only facility on the city’s Far South Side to offer year-round play. The 138,000-square-foot building will also feature space for meetings, community events, exhibitions and sports training. Just down the street is a brand new Walmart, a Ross Dress for Less, and a few other shops and businesses, the likes of which the neighborhood hasn’t seen since railcar magnate George Pullman’s planned community was in its heyday more than 120 years ago. They represent the first phase in Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives’ transformation of 180 acres along 111th Street near the Bishop Ford Expressway into new houses, businesses, industries and recreational facilities. 

About $9 million of the $15 million required to build the community center have been secured with investments by Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives (CNI) and grants from the State of Illinois and U.S. Bank. Also contributing is the NFL/LISC Grassroots program – a partnership among the NFL Foundation, LISC and, in this instance, the Chicago Bears – which supports the construction or refurbishment of community football fields. 

Dignitaries, including Gov. Pat Quinn, at a ceremonial groundbreaking for the Pullman Community Center in late July.

Gordon Walek

“We’ve been working on this for four years,” said David Doig, president of the nonprofit Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives (CNI), at a ceremonial groundbreaking in late July. “Pullman is one of Chicago’s oldest and most unique communities. George Pullman spurred the Industrial Revolution. We’re not that ambitious, but we look forward to the revitalization of this community.” 

The recreation center, said Doig, resulted in part from information gleaned at 70 community meetings in the last few years designed to ensure that the new Pullman developments were consistent with resident interests and needs. 

“The three things people wanted,” said Doig, “were places to shop, jobs (CNI’s project is creating 700), and indoor recreational facilities.” 

So far, CNI has delivered on all three.

Rodney Lopez, assistant baseball coach at nearby Gwendolyn Brooks College Prep High School, who attended the groundbreaking with some of his varsity players, said Brooks players, along with Little League, football and soccer teams, will have access to the indoor fields. 

“At Brooks, we have a natural turf field,” said Lopez. “It’s one of the nicest in the city. But we don’t have any indoor training facilities. This (the indoor fields) will change the landscape of baseball on the South Side. It’ll result in more practice and better players. We’ll have winter and fall leagues.” 

Baseball players at Gwendolyn Brooks College Prep look forward to the indoor practice fields at the new community center.

Gordon Walek

Without indoor facilities, said Lopez, his players were forced to re-learn in the spring everything they’d forgotten from when play ended the previous summer. “We were always regressing,” he noted. “This’ll keep kids out of trouble and bring them into the fold. And we encourage kids who’ve never played baseball to come out.” 

Lopez also thinks the indoor facilities will help him recruit more African-American players to the team. The Brooks student body is roughly 60 percent African-American and 40 percent Latino. Roughly half the students on the baseball team are African-American, reflecting a declining percentage of African-Americans who are interested in baseball. At the beginning of the 2014 season, only 8.2 percent of players on Major League Baseball team rosters were African-American. 

Football and soccer coaches are thinking along similar lines. Come fall of 2015, let the games begin.





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