Aspire Center construction to start this spring

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Construction for the Aspire Center for Workforce Innovation at the site of the former Emmet School building will start this spring.

Financial and job development services will be available for free at when the center – being developed by Westside Health Authority with support from Austin Coming Together – opens.

Demolition of the former Emmet School building – which former Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration closed in 2013 – is planned for March, with a groundbreaking ceremony to be held sometime in April, Austin Coming Together’s executive director Darnell Shields said last week at a Facebook Live event. Construction should be completed by fall or early winter of 2024.

ACT’s community hub, the Jane Addams Resource Corporation (JARC) and BMO Harris Bank will reside in the building, located at 5500 W. Madison St. JARC will provide training services in manufacturing, welding and mechanical assembly, and holistic services in career development and financial services also will be available.

“We will not only be able to connect you to those services, but we can walk you down the hall down to the next door to [whatever] that service is that you’re looking for,” said ACT’s Janelle Martin.

Budget for the project is set just above $38 million. Over half of the costs is being funded through city and state funds. Over $7 million was awarded to the project from the Chicago Recovery Plan in May 2022, and state Rep. La Shawn K. Ford helped pass a bill that granted the project $10 million in 2021. The rest is being funded through private donors and investors.

The Aspire Center for Workforce Innovation is the first of four buildings that ACT hopes to build in central Austin. Housing, an education and wellness campus, and a college and career academy also are planned, Shields said.

“When you drive past Central and Madison, you already expect to see something that is going to be depressing. And just imagine people able to drive past this site and now see something inspiring,” Shields said.

The property is owned by Westside Health Authority, which is partnering with ACT. There is a possibility for health center on site, but nothing is confirmed yet, Shields said.

“Keep hope alive, but we need something to drive that hope. I think all of our projects will bring that hope,” Morris Reed, West Side Health Authority’s CEO, said at the ACT’s annual summit that was held on Saturday. “Too many of us started to move out of the neighborhood because we lost hope.”

The three-story building is designed by Lamar Johnson Collaborative and will feature a café, parking, a rooftop terrace event space and be home to the new PopFit fitness park that opened last month. Ice skating will be available at the PopFit park during future winter seasons, Reed said.

“What we imagined looks like a scene from maybe someplace down in the Loop, but just imagine that here on the West Side of Chicago, in the Austin community,” Shields said. Reed said he envisions the center to be Austin’s own Merchandise Mart.

The Aspire Center is one of many buildings under development in Austin. The new BUILD campus opens next month; By the Hand Club for Kids is opening a new athletic center next month; and the Laramie State Bank redevelopment is in the works and expected to open next year.

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