Special Olympics Chicago moves forward with sports complex


Carolina Sanchez

Special Olympics Chicago plans to build a $31 million sports complex near the intersection of 14th Street and Damen Avenue.

By Megan Bennett

The Illinois Medical District may soon be home to a $31 million Special Olympics sports complex that would increase accessibility to health resources for individuals with disabilities.

Special Olympics Chicago met with the Illinois Medical District Commission on March 18 to propose building practice fields, a 2,700-seat stadium and a field house near the intersection of 14th Street and Damen Avenue that would offer training programs and competitions for athletes with disabilities.

Heather Tarczan, director of Communications and Administration for the Illinois Medical District Commission, said the proposal was approved and the commission will present the plan at a May 1 hearing, during which one or two board members will approve the particulars of the project, such as financing and lease agreements. If the proposal is approved at the hearing, the final vote will be left to the entire commission, she said.

The project was initially developed to promote Chicago as a potential host of the 2018 Special Olympics, but board members wanted to create a permanent facility for the participants involved in their programs, said James Sheahan, director of development for the project and former president of Special Children’s Charities, which operates Special Olympics Chicago.

Sheahan said Special Olympics Chicago currently offers athletic programs for children and adults with disabilities at more than 100 schools and 20 parks in the city, but lacks a permanent facility for participants to engage in coordinated activities.

“To have something centrally located like this and have a bunch of facilities in the same area, we would use it all the time,” Sheahan said. “We’ve outgrown most of the places that we [use] now.”

The goal is to finish the complex by 2018, Special Olympics Chicago’s 50th anniversary, which Tarczan said is a realistic goal.

“The approval process for the time the shovel goes into the ground [depends] on … whoever is doing the construction and managing that time schedule,” she said.

Earnest Gates, the executive director of the Near West Side Community Development Corp., said its sports programs could be combined with other programs held at the Special Olympics complex but he has not spoken with Special Olympics officials about the project. He added he is unsure of how the complex will affect Near West Side residents.

“It will serve a very small segment of the immediate community, but it will be a benefit to the larger disabled community,” Gates said. “My concern is how it is going to affect the folks that we serve in the community.”

Special Olympics Chicago plans to collect donations from other foundations to fund the project, Sheahan said. No money has been raised yet, but Sheahan said Special Olympics Chicago is seeking more corporate partners and is confident the project will occur and succeed.

“There is no ‘B’ plan,” he said. “This is it. This is going to work.”