More TIF funds for Cabrini gym
$15 million facility will be home to Jesse White Tumblers
03/09/2011 10:00 PM
Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) is taking financial precautions to make sure that plans to build a community center in Cabrini Green stay on track.
Burnett went before the city’s Committee on Finance on Friday to secure an additional $5 million in tax increment financing (TIF) funds to cover construction costs for a 30,000-square-foot gymnasium building to be named after Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White.
The gym, slated to be built at 412 W. Chicago and operated as a Chicago Park District property, will serve as a practice space for the Jesse White Tumblers, a nationally-renowned youth acrobatics program founded by White in the late 1950s.
Funding for the $15 million project was originally scheduled to come from three sources. In February, the city coughed up $5 million in TIF capital to cover building costs. That contribution was expected to be matched by the park district and rounded out by $5 million contributed by White himself.
But the park district has yet to confer its third of the funding, said Burnett, prompting him to ask the city to double its subsidies for the project — a request that sailed through the committee without discussion.
“All of our governmental bodies are having challenges with funding,” said Burnett. “Right now TIF is the only for sure thing that we have.”
Park District spokesperson Jessica Maxey-Faulkner said that the park district had pursued the $5 million in TIF money for the project, and she wasn’t sure what Burnett was doing at the committee meeting on Friday.
“I can’t speak for [his] camp,” she said.
The park district secured the funding for the project last September when its board of commissioners accepted $31.6 million in TIF funding from the city that was intended for various park projects.
Along with the $5 million set aside for White’s community center, the district had also allotted $550,000 to pay for work on the playground at nearby Seward Park and $375,000 in TIF funds designated for the development of Skinner Park in the 27th Ward, according to a park district press release.
But at this point, the whereabouts of the money for White’s gym is anyone’s guess.
“I honestly don’t know,” said Maxey-Faulkner, when asked if the park district’s share of the money had been delivered for the project yet.
Burnett said that the extra TIF money, which came out of the Near North TIF district, was a Plan B of sorts, as both he and White still have hopes that the park district will come through with the funding.
If the park district money does surface, the $5 million will go back to the city, said Burnett.
White had originally intended to build the facility in the East Garfield Park neighborhood, but last summer he announced that the project would move to Cabrini Green, at the site of a former Chicago Housing Authority high-rise.
In addition to serving as a gym for the Tumblers, who currently practice at Ada Park on the South Side and at the Moody Bible Institute, the facility will also feature a basketball court, computer labs and a senior services center that will be open to the public.
“It’s going to be a safety net, not only for [the Tumblers], but for the kids and everybody in the community as well,” said White.
The Tumblers started in 1959 when White, who at the time was playing minor league baseball in the Chicago Cubs organization, led a group of children and teenagers in a gymnastics demonstration at the Rockwell Gardens housing development.
Soon after, the troupe began putting on shows at YMCA events and block club parties. White was eventually approached by the Chicago Bulls, who asked to have the Tumblers perform during their halftime shows. That gig led to widespread recognition for the group, and today the Tumblers have performed for every NBA team, as well as at events in several other countries, White said.
White said he expected the Tumblers to appear at 1,500 events this year.
Youths participating in the program also have access to tutoring services and are eligible for scholarships financed by White’s organization.
Work on the community center is scheduled to begin by May, as White said he wanted to start the project while the outgoing Mayor Richard M. Daley is still in office. Construction on the facility is expected to take up to 18 months.