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SouthtownStar (Chicago, Illinois)

Molly Ross is looking forward to taking gymnastics lessons a little closer to home. And the 7-year-old's mother, Erin, is grateful she will be able to stay near home in Chicago's 19th Ward rather than driving to Oak Lawn for those lessons.

They owe it to the long-awaited Morgan Park, Beverly Sports Center, for which a groundbreaking ceremony was held Wednesday at the vacant lot at the southeastern corner of 115th Street and Western Avenue. The center also will provide much-needed indoor skating space for the increasing number of boys and girls who are playing hockey after the Blackhawks' recent successes.

Molly Ross's gymnastics lessons now are at 5:15 p.m.

"It's not a good time because you're driving down 95th Street at rush hour," Erin Ross said. "This is about 10 minutes away from home, compared to 25 minutes now."

The 64,000-square-foot sports facility, for which plans were announced last year, will feature a state-of-the-art indoor ice rink, a gymnastics center, skate rentals, concession areas, meeting and party rooms, viewing areas, offices, rest rooms and team locker rooms.

The project is expected to be completed next summer, said Chicago Ald. Matt O'Shea, D-19th.

Erin Ross and three of her four children - Molly, 7, Quinn, 9, and Jack, 13 - were among several hundred who attended the groundbreaking event, which included free popcorn, bottles of water and Original Rainbow Cones.

"The boys don't play hockey, but Quinn would like to take some hockey lessons, so he's excited. He's never tried hockey before. Any time there's something new for the kids, that's exciting, too," Erin Ross said.

A Dominick's grocery store closed on the site in 1983, and the building was demolished years ago. There have been other ideas for developments bandied about the past 30 years, O'Shea said.

"We're going to get this done next summer. Kids, you'll be performing cartwheels, ice skating and playing hockey here next year," O'Shea said to applause.

O'Shea was joined by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Chicago Park District General Supt. Michael Kelly, and Illinois Speaker of the House Mike Madigan (D-Chicago), State Sen. Bill Cunningham, and State Reps. Fran Hurley and Monique Davis.

The $16 million project is being completed with a combination of state, park district and special-taxing district funding.

The ice rink will be 85 feet wide and 200 feet long, with seating capacity for 850 to 1,000 spectators.

"As I campaigned three years ago, what I heard door after door was 'Do something about this corner,' " O'Shea said. "Shortly after I was sworn in, I met with Mayor Emanuel and said, 'We need to build a facility here for our children and our children's children.'

"This will be a destination point, an engine to drive people to the south end of Western Avenue, to drive people to invest along Western Avenue."

Kelly said the "incredible" new sports complex will open the doors to two increasingly popular sports as well as other recreation opportunities in Chicago's Beverly, Morgan Park and surrounding communities.

"State-of-the-art facilities combined with specialized gymnastics and skating programs will give athletes, whether beginner or elite, the opportunity to learn and excel at these sports," Kelly said.

Emanuel noted that on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Millennium Park, "We're breaking ground on a new sports complex that will do for the Beverly/Morgan Park neighborhoods what Millennium Park has done for downtown Chicago.

"Chicago is only as strong as its neighborhoods, and this facility is a prime example of the type of neighborhood investments we are making across the city to provide economic opportunities, recreational activities and the chance to strengthen the social fabric of this community," the mayor said.

Gymnasts from a program at Calumet Park performed briefly before the ceremonial shoveling of dirt.

Members of the St. Jude Knights youth hockey program were there in their jerseys, as were some players from Marist, St. Rita and Brother Rice high schools.

The Morgan Park, Beverly Sports Center will accommodate a range of ages, from preschool children up to club-level athletes, and will feature a public viewing area and standard USGA competition events for men and women.

The center will also feature a large pit area and in-ground trampolines for additional training opportunities. The facility will allow for year-round competitive hockey, figure skating and recreational ice skating.

Young hockey players should benefit from the new rink, professional player Vincent LoVerde said.

LoVerde, 25, grew up in the 19th Ward and in May signed a 2014-15 contract with the NHL's Los Angeles Kings.

"My four younger siblings and I all participated in Chicago Park District programs growing up, in many sports at our local parks," he said. "All these programs were beneficial to our development. This facility is a great addition for the entire South Side of Chicago. It allows access to hockey and gymnastics that previously was unavailable."

Officials and others prepare to remove the ceremonial first shovels of dirt during Wednesday's groundbreaking for a new gymnastics and skating center in Chicago's 19th Ward.

Steve Metsch/Sun-Times Media
July 17, 2014


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