The currently vacant building at 5400 W. 63rd St. --File photo

The currently vacant building at 5400 W. 63rd St. --File photo

Pols want 63rd St. armory for new police HQ

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Porfirio, Guerrero-Cuellar push plan in Springfield

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By Tim Hadac

Any plans the Chicago Department of Aviation may have had for the vacant Army National Guard Midway Armory, 5400 W. 63rd St., may be grounded, at least for now.

Several elected officials are eyeing the parcel as the headquarters of a new police district, should one ever be created.

State Sen. Mike Porfirio (D-11th) and State Rep. Angie Guerrero-Cuellar (D-22nd) recently filed legislation to transfer the building to the City of Chicago–for the specific purpose of a police district headquarters—for the symbolic sum of a dollar. The payment would be made to the Illinois Department of Military Affairs, which currently owns the property.

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State Sen. Mike Porfirio (D-11th)

The plan was hinted at earlier this month by 13th Ward Ald. Marty Quinn, the driving force behind a plan to split the Chicago Lawn (8th) Police District more or less in two.

For decades, the 8th District’s boundaries have essentially remained the same: roughly Bell Avenue on the east to city limits on the west, the Stevenson Expressway on the north to city limits on the south. Both geographically and in terms of number of people served, the district is one of the largest in the city.

The plan to split the district would leave everything east of Central Park Avenue in 8, and the rest in a newly created district.

The idea was put on the March 19 ballot, with nearly 87% of those responding voting in favor.

“Our residents have spoken and we are moving forward with their wishes for a new police district for our community,” Porfirio said. “We hope Governor [JB] Pritzker and Mayor [Brandon] Johnson want to support us in this effort.”

A group of 15 Southwest Side elected officials sent Pritzker a letter last month requesting the state sell them a vacant building to be used as a new police district facility.

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State Rep. Angie Guerrero-Cuellar (D-22nd)

The 8th District has “the worst data points in the city on key police staffing metrics, which has led to slow police response times and resident frustration,” officials said in a press release. At its current size, which hasn’t changed since the late 1960s, the district is the busiest and third-largest police district in the city (at 23 square miles) and serves the highest population with more than 250,000 residents. That equates to 10 officers for every 10,000 residents, which is the lowest officer to resident ratio in the city, they added.

“It is past time that our community received the police support it needs and deserves,” Guerrero-Cuellar said. “We hope this legislation signals how serious we are about increasing safety and police presence on the Southwest Side.”

The legislation would be effective upon Pritzker’s signature.

Whether Johnson would go along with the plan is an open question. The mayor has given no indication, and it may be a stretch to think he would be willing to spend his political capital in the 13th Ward, where he received just 18% of the vote in the April 2023 municipal runoff election.

But even if Johnson gets on board, supports the plan and agrees to the millions of dollars needed to turn an 84-year-old building into a 21st century police headquarters—the central question of staffing remains. Police retirements and resignations have outpaced new hires for years, and the Chicago Police Department struggles to attract qualified recruits.

Background

The armory has been mostly vacant since 2017, when the Illinois Army National Guard ceased operations there and relocated its unit to Kankakee.

Last year, the Lightfoot Administration expressed an interest in purchasing the 75,000 square-foot building and land from the state. Enabling legislation was introduced into City Council.

Last month, the Johnson Administration announced that the Chicago Department of Aviation will enter into negotiations to acquire the old armory and its four acres of property.

The enabling ordinance that passed last month would permit the CDA to enter negotiations with the state to purchase the structure and the land it sits on for fair market value. The purchase would be financed strictly by airport funds, without the use of any local taxpayer dollars, officials said.

Constructed in about 1940, the armory was a hornet’s nest of activity during World War II and played similar but lesser roles during the Korean and Vietnam Wars.

Headlines of years gone by showed President Dwight D. Eisenhower arriving there by plane and then using a nearby VIP gate to be escorted via limousine east on 63rd Street and north on Cicero as he headed downtown.

A famous photo posted online shows future President John F. Kennedy using the same gate in 1960 as he waves to Clearing residents clustered on 63rd Street.

In 2024, the purchase is important to CDA operations for several reasons, city officials said in March. Acquiring the property allows the CDA to secure that portion of Midway’s perimeter, contributing to the overall safety and security of Midway’s operation.

The purchase also allows the CDA to retain control of the land that sits immediately adjacent to Midway property, which will help ensure the property’s uses are compatible with airport operations, particularly since a portion of the property lies within the federally regulated Runway Protection Zone (RPZ) for Midway Runway 4R/22L.

Finally, the property may have future utility for CDA operations, as the existing facility can be used for interior storage of snow removal equipment.

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