The 108,000-square-foot video gaming stadium is planned for 2601 S. Wabash Ave. and would be the first in the city.

Justin Laurence

CHICAGO — The city is moving into the booming virtual gaming world in a big way.

A $30 million, 108,000-square-foot video gaming stadium with capacity for 1,040 spectators is one step closer to becoming reality after it was enthusiastically approved Tuesday by the Zoning Committee, setting up a final vote Wednesday in the full City Council.

Smash Interactive plans to build the Surge esports arena, virtual reality hangout and space for its corporate headquarters at 2601 S. Wabash Ave. in Bronzeville. Smash is co-owned by developer Scott Greenberg. The development would also include restaurants.

Ticketed esports events at the arena would happen primarily during the evenings and weekends, but the space would also be available to members of the public looking to hold an event with a virtual reality component.

Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd), who represents the area, said she supports the project and is “especially excited” the developers are partnering with the Illinois Institute of Technology to launch the Bronzeville Esports League and expose local middle and high school students to the esports world. 

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) said “esports is the way of the future.”

“If you look at some of these esports tournaments, they’re amazing and they’re well-attended,” he said. “This thing is going to take off, based on what I’ve seen online and the research that I’ve done on esports. It’s really amazing. So, just hold on to your bootstraps …,” he said.

Aldermen said the stadium will also benefit the Near South Side. Ald. David Moore (17th) said the project is “huge for Chicago” and it will push tourism in the city “further south.”

“As a father of teenage boys, I know more about esports than I care to, and I know this will be a draw to that part of Bronzeville,” Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) said.

Near West Side Building Boom Continues

The Zoning Committee also approved three large projects in Ald. Walter Burnett’s 27th ward, including a nine-story office building with ground-floor commercial space at 1229 W. Randolph St., a 27-story residential tower with 372 units at 160 N. Elizabeth St. and the continued development of the former Henry Horner Homes site, a Chicago Housing Authority development demolished in 2006.

A 12-story, 96-unit, multi-income building near the long-planned Damen and Lake Green Line station was approved to continue the Westhaven Park development, which replaced the Henry Horner building. It has already brought 747 apartments to the site.

The project’s zoning attorney, Steve Friedland, said the building would include 38 CHA replacement units, 25 affordable units and 38 market rate units.

Through the community process, developer Brinshore-Michaels reconfigured the height of the building towards the Green Line. As a transit-oriented development, there will only be 16 parking spaces, as well as 96 bike stations.

Burnett praised the project, saying it has a “beautiful design” and the commercial space would allow tenants to find work in the community.

New Rules On High Rises

Separately, the committee approved changes to the city’s rules governing large signs on high-rise buildings in an effort to lure corporate headquarters to the city as it recovers from the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Buildings taller than 150 feet would be able to have up to two large signs if the building is located within a planned development district, which gives the city greater influence on design changes. The building also must:

  • Be home to a company’s international or national headquarters.
  • Be where the company CEO works.
  • Occupy at least 60 percent or at least 450,000 square feet of the building’s total floor area, whichever is less.

Currently, only five companies would qualify under the proposed changes, zoning administrator Patrick Murphey told the committee: the Blue Cross Blue Shield Tower; the Leo Burnett Building; the Citadel Center; One South Dearborn, home to law firm giant Sidley Austin; and Morningstar’s headquarters at 22 W. Washington St.

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