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Wal-Mart To Open On Old Sportsman's Park Site

CICERO, Ill. (CBS) -- The site of the old Sportsman's Park racetrack is getting a new life as the site of a Wal-Mart Supercenter.

Wal-Mart is developing the massive big-box store, complete with a full grocery store, at the old racetrack site at 33rd Street and Cicero Avenue in Cicero.

Citing town documents, the Chicago Tribune reported Wal-Mart will buy 21 acres for $7.5 million on the site, and construction will begin next year. The store will open in 2014, the newspaper reported.

The project will create 400 new jobs and 200 construction jobs, according to the town Web site.

An official announcement on the project is set to come later Tuesday.

Another major development on the old racetrack site was announced last year. Alcohol distributor Wirtz Beverage Illinois will open a 600,000 square-foot corporate center, with 100,000 square feet of office and conference center space, next month, the Tribune reported.

The facility will allow Wirtz to consolidate its operations in suburban Schaumburg, Wood Dale, Bensenville and Elk Grove Village. The corporate headquarters for the company remain at 680 N. Lake Shore Dr.

Wirtz Beverage, which is part of the family-run corporation that owns the Blackhawks, received about $13 million in tax increment financing, the Tribune reported. Wal-Mart is not getting any tax incentives.

The Town of Cicero will still own 10 acres on the site, the newspaper reported.

The semi-furlong Sportsman's Park racetrack was founded as a dog track by Al Capone in 1928. But it hosted horse races for most of its history.

In its later years, Sportsman's Park was turned into a combined horse and auto racing facility, known as the Chicago Motor Speedway.

In 2002, the park hosted its last race, the National Jockey Club, which owned the park, said it would move its operations to the nearby Hawthorne Race Course. The Town of Cicero purchased Sportsman's Park in 2003, and it was demolished in 2009.

Wal-Mart has operated stores in the suburbs for decades, in some instances just across a road from the Chicago city limits. But the first Chicago Wal-Mart store, at North and Kilpatrick avenues in the Austin neighborhood, didn't open until 2006.

Following a protracted fight with organized labor, Wal-Mart got the green light for a major expansion in Chicago. The retailer has been met variously with bouquets and brickbats in different areas of the city.

A new Supercenter opened to much fanfare at 83rd Street and Stewart Avenue in the Chatham neighborhood in January. Another is planned for 111th Street and Doty Avenue in the Pullman neighborhood.

Smaller Wal-Mart Express stores have also opened at 83rd Street and Holland Road across from the Chatham Supercenter, the Presidential Towers at 555 W. Madison St. Another opened in late November of last year at 3636 N. Broadway in the East Lakeview neighborhood, in the former Recycled Paper Greetings card company building.

But Wal-Mart has not received a warm reception at the south end of East Lakeview, where it announced plans last year to open a medium-sized Neighborhood Market store focusing largely on groceries in the Broadway at Surf retail complex, in the 2800 block of North Broadway. That store would take over two empty storefronts and displace an existing and popular Cost Plus World Market store.

Neighbors, local businesses and community groups, including the Lakeview East Chamber of Commerce, said the store would decimate the many locally-owned small businesses along Broadway and other nearby commercial strips, and permanently change the character of the neighborhood for worse.

Wal-Mart has not signed a lease for the space.

The retailer has signed leases for smaller-scale stores at 76th Street and Ashland Avenue in the Auburn-Gresham neighborhood, at 71st Street and Western Avenue in the West Englewood neighborhood, and in the old Pearl art supply store at 225 W. Chicago Ave. in the River North neighborhood.


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