Several groups and local leaders gathered Wednesday in Austin for the ground-breaking of a $31 million, professional-level facility for sports, education and wellness.
Attendees at Wednesday’s event included representatives from By The Hand Club For Kids, Grace and Peace Revive Center, Intentional Sports, the Chicago Fire Foundation, and Chicago Cubs right fielder Jason Heyward and his wife Vedrana Heyward.
The campus will help close the opportunity gap for youth on the West Side through access to education, leadership development and sports training, including soccer and baseball programming from the Chicago Fire FC and the Jason Heyward Baseball Academy.
It features 150,000-square-feet of indoor space, new outdoor turf fields and Chicago’s only FIFA regulation turf arena for year-round indoor sport, the largest turf field on the city’s West Side.
The 10-acre project transforms a vacant parcel of land at 1841 N. Laramie. The campus will house after-school programming for more than 400 youth and offer over 100 free community hours per week. The Fire will offer more than 20 hours per week of free soccer programming for the community.
“It’s truly remarkable to see our vision take shape here in the North Austin community,” Donnita Travis, founder and executive director of By The Hand Club For Kids and lead organizer for the development, said in a statement.
Block Club Chicago reported that the baseball academy will give local youth “an opportunity to come and practice and play on fields that are quality,” said Tevin Hayes, assistant site director and baseball coach for By the Hand.
Hayes grew up in Austin, where there was no place to play baseball locally, he said.
“I know what it’s like to not have access. … If I wanted to play, I had to go to Oak Park,” Block Club Chicago reported Hayes saying at Wednesday’s event.
The project is supported with a $1.5 million capital grant from the state, which will assist with brownfield redevelopment of the former Glidden paint factory.
The grant provided critical resources that enabled community leaders to break ground on the campus this summer and open to the community in fall 2022. The project will support 75 permanent jobs and 200 temporary construction jobs.
“Our Rebuild Illinois capital program is about more than just delivering new infrastructure investments to communities – it’s about investments in brighter futures for our children. We’re proud to put capital dollars to work with our support for the new community and youth sports center coming to Austin next year, bringing hundreds of local jobs along the way,” Gov. JB Pritzker said in a statement.
By The Hand Club For Kids will operate its sixth Chicago-area club on the campus. Occupying 30,000-square-feet of indoor space, By The Hand will serve more than 400 CPS students on-site.
Longtime community cornerstone Grace and Peace Revive Center has been operating on the North Laramie site since 2018 and will continue providing critical wraparound services. Food banks, domestic violence counseling, transitional housing and advocacy workshops are just a few of the services that will be available.
“North Austin is our home, and we are very proud to be investing in its future,” said pastor John Zayas, founder and pastor of Grace and Peace Church and CEO of the Revive Center.
“We hope this campus serves as a beacon of hope and opportunity, signaling to our community that we are committed to improving the quality of life and access to resources for our neighbors on Chicago’s West Side,” Zayas said in a statement.
Anchoring the development will be Intentional Sports, a not-for-profit organization working to close the opportunity and access gaps that persist in youth sports. Young people in underserved communities like North Austin are four times less likely to play sports and six times more likely to quit sports due to costs.
Intentional Sports will provide best-in-class youth sports academies, competitive opportunities, and health and wellness training across 120,000-square-feet of indoor space.
The facility expects to host about 25,000 participants per year, with adult leagues, camps and national tournaments generating revenue to sustain the facility and provide low-cost and no-cost options to local athletes and their families.
“We are trying to change the landscape of North Austin and its surrounding communities, and we believe equitable access to sports, education and leadership development is the way to do that,” Andy McDermott, founder and president of Intentional Sports, said in a statement.
Intentional Sports will debut multiple youth sports and leadership academies when the campus opens, in addition to soccer programming from the Chicago Fire and baseball programming from the Jason Heyward Baseball Academy.
“Sports play a defining role in building character, forging opportunity and changing the lives of young people,” said Jason Heyward.
“Vedrana and I are committed to helping lift Chicago’s youth and leveraging our skills and resources to make a difference in our city.”
As director, Jason Heyward, together with his personal coaching staff, will take a hands-on approach, guiding all aspects of the curriculum for participants ranging in age from 18 months to college-age athletes. In conjunction with the Baseball Academy, Vedrana Heyward will launch Girls on the Diamond, a holistic collection of programming geared toward helping young women discover their passion, harness their talent and develop life skills to grow into confident, well-rounded and powerful women – on or off the baseball diamond.