Skip to main content

The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Award for Outstanding Non-Profit Neighborhood Real Estate Project

The Salvation Army Ray & Joan Kroc Corps Community Center

Eric Young Smith

Hailed at its 2012 opening as “a historic investment in the Far South Side of Chicago,” the Kroc Center is proving to be that and more. An average of 2,500 Far South Siders converge on the Center daily from West Pullman and beyond. Many still marvel that their oft-neglected corner of the city, nicknamed “the Wild Hundreds,” has been blessed with the finest facility of its kind in the city and quite possibly the nation.

Certainly it is the most elaborate of the 27 community centers, either built or planned across the U.S., as part of a $1.8 billion bequeathal by the late Joan Kroc, widow of McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc. Spanning 33 acres on the 1200 block of West 119th Street, the complex is anchored by a 160,000-square-foot multi-use facility that embraces four gyms, a competition pool, an indoor water park, a 600-seat theater, computer labs, banquet halls, fitness center and indoor running track. Outside, on a clay cap over what once was an industrial brownfield, is a synthetic baseball field, softball field, both natural and synthetic turf football/soccer fields, a 400 meter/ 8-lane track and, for little ones, a traditional playground.

The Salvation Army amplified the initial $110 million Kroc gift by fundraising another $37 million from donors ranging from White Sox Charities to the CharitaBulls, from Bank of America to the Searle Funds of the Chicago Community Trust. New Markets Tax Credits were arranged via Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives.

Besides athletic and cultural activities managed through 150 different programs, Kroc Center has delivered an economic jolt to West Pullman, both directly by providing about 200 full- and part-time jobs, and indirectly by its “halo effect” of nearby residential and commercial investments estimated at $14.5 million-a-year.

Most of all, says S.A. Major David Harvey, “It’s a place where children from all the surrounding neighborhoods can come together in peace to learn, play and grow.”