The Fire have signed a ground lease for their new training facility.
Courtesy of the Fire
Fire midfielder Gaston Gimenez had an interesting perspective when he was asked about the franchise’s upcoming training facility.
“It will be the advantage of feeling at home,” Gimenez said via a translator. “Feeling that’s something that’s your own and that you belong there.”
On Monday, it was announced the Fire had signed a ground lease for a 23.3-acre parcel in the Roosevelt Square neighborhood on the Near West Side to build an $80 million center. The plan hasn’t been without controversy after now-outgoing Mayor Lori Lightfoot effectively pushed through a zoning change, allowing the process to continue toward constructing a new facility on Chicago Housing Authority land for a team owned by billionaire Joe Mansueto.
Coach Ezra Hendrickson, however, sounded optimistic about the project’s civic benefits, likely alluding to the team’s pledge to provide $8 million to preserve and rehab nearby CHA units while creating municipal spaces and providing jobs for the community.
“Giving back to our community has been the core of our club mission, and this is just another way for us to be impactful in that situation,” Hendrickson said. “We have a world-class sporting facility and we’ll be able to help the people in that community.”
The Fire — who are financing the development — and the city hope people will agree. And while the team’s business side and the city will have to weather the controversy and any public-relations backlash, the benefits to the Fire’s soccer side are obvious.
“When someone comes home, you really feel happy to have something like that,” Gimenez said. “I think that the people who have been here for a while, to have something like that is really going to be fantastic because you’re going to be able to feel really proud of the project and to have something so wonderful and so nice, because when you go out and when you come home and to see something that nice, you really feel happiness. And that will be really the main advantage for us.”
Instead of training at Bridgeview’s SeatGeek Stadium, the Fire will have a state-of-the-art center to call their own. Nobody with the Fire has scoffed at their accommodations in Bridgeview — which the club paid to upgrade before the 2020 season — but a new center should help them somewhat close the facilities gap with other teams around MLS.
Though the Fire split time between a football stadium arguably too big for soccer and an outdated suburban venue they abandoned three years ago, they will be able to show potential recruits a modern training building. And unlike Bridgeview, the new center will be closer to the heart of the city where many of the players live.
As for current players, defender Arnaud Souquet said he and his teammates are thrilled about the upcoming facility. Souquet praised SeatGeek Stadium, stressing that it’s a good place to work and prepare for matches but is eager for the new center and called the plans “beautiful” for the city and club.
“We know we have a good [facility in Bridgeview] and in the future it will be better,” Souquet said.