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Alderman seeks $5 million city subsidy for gym named for Jesse White

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

The Jesse White Tumblers would get a state-of-the-art gymnastics training facility on vacant land that once housed a Cabrini Green high-rise, under a $15 million plan that got a boost Wednesday.

Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) introduced an ordinance at a City Council meeting that would earmark another $5 million from the Near North tax-increment-financing (TIF) district for the center. It would bear the name of Burnett’s political patron, Secretary of State Jesse White, who is also the 27th Ward Democratic committeeman.

Three months ago, the City Council agreed to spend $5 million from the local TIF to help build the 30,000 sq.ft. facility on Chicago Housing Authority land at 410 W. Chicago.

The Chicago Park District, which would own and operate the facility, was supposed to come up with another $5 million to be matched by $5 million raised by the Jesse White Foundation.

But, Burnett said Wednesday the project needs another $5 million in TIF money, to be funneled through the Chicago Park District.

White sought to clarify the funding confusion. Normally, TIF subsidies are proposed by the mayor — not individual aldermen.

“The city owed the Park District $5 million for something else. ... They forgot about the $5 million they owed for this project. So, the city is paying back the Park District. That’s what the alderman is proposing. All we’re asking for is one, $5 million allocation from the TIF. The Park District will give another $5 million,” White said.

A former professional baseball player who spent eight years in the Cubs organization, White founded the Jesse White Tumblers 52 years ago to provide a constructive alternative for inner-city kids who might otherwise fall prey to gangs and drugs.

Over the years, the Jesse White Tumblers have trained 13,000 young athletes and, according to White, “Only 105 of them have gotten into trouble with the law.” Tumblers who go on to college get $2,500-to-$25,000 grants to help defray the cost of tuition.

The Jesse White Tumblers currently train at Moody Bible Institute and Ada Park on mats and mini-trampolines. The new building will be a state-of-the-art gymnastics training facility, complete with balance beams, rings, horses, and uneven parallel bars.

“They’ll have a true gymnastics facility with all the proper equipment. With this facility, kids can compete around the country,” White said.

It’s not often that a public building is named after someone who’s living, but White makes no apologies for that.

“I’ve spent 52 years donating time and money toward helping kids in my community become productive citizens, use idle time in a positive way and put kids out in society to be a positive force. For those reasons and more, they decided that’s the name they wanted to use,” White said.

“I’m honored by it. But, it’s not something I was seeking. I’m the Secretary of State. I didn’t seek that position, either. I was drafted. I was also drafted to be a state lawmaker and recorder of deeds. It seems I’ve been drafted a few times. I was also drafted into the Army.”

White said he hopes to break ground on the new facility in late March and open it sometime next year.

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