KOO-designed SURGE esports arena gets the go-ahead for Chicago’s South Side

Game On

KOO-designed SURGE esports arena gets the go-ahead for Chicago’s South Side

The Bronzeville arena will include a broadcasting center, stadium seating, and a stage for video gamers to compete. (Courtesy KOO)

Chicago’s City Council has greenlit a $30 million proposed esports and virtual reality arena for a site along South Wabash Avenue that’s just a stone’s throw from McCormick Place, the largest convention center in North America, in the South Side neighborhood of Bronzeville. The enthusiastic blessing from the full City Council came on Wednesday of this week, just a day after the project cleared a formidable hurdle in the form of the council’s Zoning Committee.

As previously reported by AN, the 108,000-square-foot facility, dubbed SURGE, is the brainchild of Chicago real estate developer, hotelier, and self-described “design perfectionist” Scott Greenberg, who first revealed plans for the KOO-designed arena late last year. Greenberg’s firm, ECD, partnered with Chris Lai of Chicago-based virtual reality gaming company MassVR to form Smash Interactive, a new venture heading the project. When completed, it will be the first stadium dedicated to professional gaming competitions in Chicago with room for over 1,000 players and spectators. Outside of Chicago, sizable esports arenas are planned for cities including Toronto, Philadelphia, and Arlington, Texas. (All three venues were designed by Populous.)

Among other things, SURGE is set to feature an on-site restaurant, player lounge, and a colossal IMAX-style screen embedded into the building facade. In addition to its advantageous proximity to McCormick Place, Surge can also claim the campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology, home to a robust esports program, as a close neighbor.

While Illinois Tech would no doubt supply SURGE with a reliable flow of players, Greenberg has also vowed to build design partnerships with local schools including the National Teachers Academy, Drake Elementary, and Wendell Phillips High School, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, which also noted the Smash Interactive Team’s commitment to recruiting minority-owned firms during the construction process.

One immediate concern raised by colleagues of local alderman Pat Dowell of Chicago’s 3rd ward is that the venue could be too popular and that the 90 on-site parking spaces planned for the site would not be enough to accommodate a surge of car-driving gamers at SURGE.

“This is gonna be a wonderful project,” the Sun-Times reported Alderman Anthony Beale of the 9th ward as telling Dowell. “It’s gonna take off and do wonderful things for your ward. Esports is the way of the future. If you look at some of these esports tournaments, they are amazing and well-attended. I don’t think we’re gonna have enough parking in the immediate area.”

But as reported by the Sun-Times, Graham Grady, an attorney representing Greenberg, assured otherwise gung-ho aldermen that his client has arranged for off-site parking lease agreements that would prove beneficial during particularly well-attended events. Grady also told the committee that Greenberg was in talks with a “very large” private parking operator in “the event that we need that.”

Construction on SURGE could kick off as soon as this summer.

Meanwhile, legislation has been introduced to both the U.S. House of Representatives and to the Senate that would designate Bronzeville, a historic center of Black life in Chicago, as a National Heritage Area. Per the Chicago Tribune, the designation would unlock $10 million in funding for neighborhood preservation and community-building efforts headed by local nonprofits. If the legislation is passed, these efforts would enjoy a crucial assist from the National Park Service.