Dome for sports training proposed for 63rd/Hayes Dr. tennis courts in Jackson Park

Presented jointly by Jackson Park Advisory Council and

Jackson Park/Jackson Park Advisory Council website homepage. Parks home.

For September 8, 2008 community meeting on the subject

A proposal has been introduced by Athletes Committed to Education*, represented by Tyrone Mason, and Loop Capital Markets, LLC to construct a 40-foot sculpted and transparent 58,000 square feet dome and 8,200 square foot club house over/ at the current 3 tennis courts southeast of Hayes Drive (6300 S) and Cornell Drive. The proposal has the support of the local alderman and is in discussion with the Jackson Park Advisory Council (which gave provisional acceptance a few months ago, but since found serious flaws in the expanded proposal) and apparently with Chicago Park District. It is a private enterprise which may have some room for park programs. A general public meeting was convened by Alderman Hairston and JPAC for September 8, 2008, at which there was a full vetting as described later in this page. Next step is continued negotiation between ACE and Chicago Park District, after which the proposal will again be brought to the community.

In December, written questions were presented ACE, which were given an answer.
On January 12, the JPAC resolved its appreciation of ACE's efforts for more sports training facilities in the park and asked that ACE join JPAC in seeking a new field house or addition to the current field house to include these under the Park District. JPAC, however, opposes additional non-park district structures in Jackson Park.

The proposal was presented to the Friends of the Parks board, which rejected it.

* Mr. Mason (as well as others) conducts tennis camps in the park.


Hyde Park Herald article of June 25, 2008 contains most of the information and discussion. By Crystal Fencke

Dome to be added to Jackson Park courts

Continued discussion about a proposed athletic complex to enclose and enhance tennis courts in Jackson Park moved along Monday evening June 16, at the Jackson Park fieldhouse 6401 S. Stony Island Ave. [Tyrone] Mason, who is spearheading the project, fielded questions from the Advisory Council (JPAC) and some interested neighbors, while Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) voiced her unconditional approval of this venue that would be unique to the South Side.

The bubble, as it is currently being called, could break ground in February of 2009 and open in October of the same year. But the process will include some scrutiny under a JPAC study the group is about to undertake in accordance with the lakefront protection ordinance.

Mason said the bubble would benefit South Side sports enthusiasts year round, especially young people and senior citizens. Tennis enthusiasts could play all months of the year. Baseball clinics held at the facility would afford opportunities for professional scouts to watch young players. Golfers who have to stop when it gets dark could continue to play indoors, he said.

The bubble would be a freestanding building located at 63rd and Cornell Avenue by Hayes Drive at the same location as the existing tennis courts. It would house six courts, some baseball batting cages and golf simulators.

According to architectural blueprints, the edifice would be 40 feet high. The entire building would span 65,200 square feet, including and 8,200 foot club house. The curved roof would be made of a clear material to make the most of solar energy. A new garden would be installed outside the clubhouse.

With an initial cost o $3 million and an annual operating budget of $1.1 million, the plan is for the funding to come from a combination of not-for-profit organizations and usage fees. Mason, of the organization Athletes Committed to Excellence, has been teaching tennis for more than 25 years, including at Bally's Sports Club at 1301 E. 47th Street. The Hyde Park resident also gives lessons to the daughter of presidential candidate Barack Obama.

Mason believes that sports are a way to give young men and women focus, especially in the violent climate the South Side has been suffering. "I play and I know what it did for me," he said. "My main focus is to keep kids from going to the dark side," he said. "too many kids are getting killed." "In order to deal with kids you have to have an organization," he said. He laments that the South Side has had a void since the Hyde Park Athletic Club closed and made way for the Bally's twenty years ago. "You have to hook young people on tennis or golf. You'd be surprised, given the opportunity, the interest they have in these sports," he said.

The Jackson Park Advisory Council is cautiously optimistic in giving its approval. Gary Ossewaarde of the group said via email that the proposal is a "great good" and he hopes it can pass certain tests. At the same time, the group is treading lightly. "We have to be careful about new facilities," especially those that "could become eyesores or pose hazards, and [we have to take] the finances [into consideration], he said.

Ossewaarde pointed out that historic parks, such as Jackson Park, can change. But "significant changes must be backed by need and benefit" to people, and should not deflect from the park's "key characteristics and historic benefits or public uses."

The changes also need to be in accord with the principles of the Lakefront Protection Ordinance, which seeks to "maintain and enhance the ... landscaped, spacious and continuous character of the lakeshore parks," among other tenets.

One of the main points of contention is whether the vistas of the park will be interrupted. Mason said that wouldn't be an issue. "If you were in the middle of the park, you'd be blocking views," he said. He says at its proposed site on 63rd and Cornell, the proposed facility wouldn't be blocking anything.

Hairston believes strongly that the facility would help her constituents, as there is no other venue like it on the South Side. "I have a community that wants more activity in the parks," she said.

The next meeting will be at a yet-to-be-identified location in September 2008 to attract a potentially large gathering of neighbors, where Mason will provide a PowerPoint presentation and more details.


From the July Jackson Park Newsletter, minutes of the June 9, 2008 JPAC meeting, excerpt:

The principal discussion item was presentation and query on the proposed added tennis-golf-baseball-fitness programming and teaching facility for the tennis court area northeast of Hayes and Cornell Drives. Presenter was Tyrone Mason of Athletes Committed to Education (ACE). A large book was available to be examined and Mr. Mason patiently answered many questions. Alderman Hairston agreed to convene an advertised community meeting in September to hear a Power Point presentation and discuss the project. Meanwhile, ACE would look with its architect at having the facility as low to the ground and non-intrusive, including to vistas, and as “green” as possible, and perhaps 2 or 3 options.

Key elements: The 40-feet high flexible material bubble and attached clubhouse, would be entirely paid for and endowed by ACE at 3.1 million, have a staff of 30 and a budget of $1.1 million a year from gate and not for profit organizations. They said their business model and research is fully done. It would be a new, permanent and attractive structure with normal expectancy 25 years. A contractual arrangement would be signed with the Park District (which had not yet committed to signing). This would require ACE to operate the facility and pay the Park District. This is not the same as sequestering of part of the park for private, non-park uses. There will be fees, but some free hours, training. It would be a draw for and unique to the whole south side. The area is visible, with current ample parking, and will be policed 24-7. A similar facility can be viewed at 87th and Harlem.

ACE said they had explored all other possible sites in the Fifth Ward and this site is at an ideal juncture of park facilities and schools and would provide what is needed short of a major new or addition to the field house to bring back these key sports as part of the experience of South Side youth. They noted that there is demand for the sports but not acceptable facilities in our parks.

Members said JPAC has to be judicious about adding new features to an historic and open space park, avoiding disrupting the vistas that were so important to park designer Frederick Law Olmsted, or having something that calls attention to itself as “non park.”

A community meeting will be convened in a suitable venue, as per above.


Herald, September 3, 2008. Jackson Park to gain "bubble?" By Crystal Fencke

Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) is convening a meeting at 7 p.m. on Monday, September 8, to discuss a controversial proposed athletic complex that would enclose the tennis courts in Jackson Park at 63rd Street and Cornell Drive. The alderman chose the solarium at South Shore Cultural Center, 7059 S. Shore Drive... as a site the right size for an expected large turnout of residents.

Local tennis coach Tyrone Mason is promoting the "bubble," as it is tentatively called, as a place where young people can practice tennis, baseball and golf year-round. He would like it to be a place for a tennis clinic where scouts could spot talented players, if the project is ultimately approved by the Chicago City Council.

The bubble would be built through the nonprofit organization Athletes Committed to Education, or ACE. Mason is in the process of gathering funding for the project through the private investment firm, Loop Capital Markets, LLC. James Reynolds, the chairman and CEO of that firm, and a member of ACE, will present the project at the meeting.

Hairston supports it as a "unique" addition to the South Side and for her constituents, who "want more activity in the parks," particularly in Jackson, the alderman said.

However, the Jackson Park Advisory Council (JPAC) is wary of the merits of the location of this proposed structure, complaining that it could block vistas of the park.*

Another group that is withholding its support for the project is Friends of the Parks (FOTP), an environmental advocacy organization in Chicago. Erma Tranter, president of that group, said that its policy rejects the bubble's construction inside Jackson Park, yet thinks that it is a good idea in a different spot. "It's not appropriate in Jackson Park," she said, for two reasons. First, she said, it's not legal to place a private entity inside a public park. "We've just seen this with Lincoln Park and the Latin School," she said, referring to the halted construction [following a court decision] of a soccer field and running track in the meadow near Lincoln Park Zoo. That project is expected to go forward, but with full funding of the park district instead of the Latin School, a private organization.

Tranter also said that it would violate historic precedent in the park, which was designed by noted landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted.

Mason and FOTP do agree, however, that there presently is not enough programming for children and other community members in Jackson Park. Currently, there does not appear to be a tennis or a baseball clinic on the park's schedule. at press time, the Herald had not received a response from a Chicago Park District representative. Mason said that if there were clinics in the park, there probably would not be the need for this project.

John Paul Jones, director of neighborhood and community relations for FOTP, said that a beautiful park such as Jackson should be used more. Its location on the lake was prime for a swimming clinic that was active about 20 years ago. "People were mad when [Chicago Park District officials] ended the swimming program in the 1980s. It was real popular."

This is the same night as the JPAC's regular monthly meeting, and the start time is 7 p.m. instead of the normal 730 p.m. Representatives of the University of Chicago, the Chicago Park District and FOTP are slated to attend.


*vistas is only one point of concern, perhaps the least according to present writer who has visited the site, except that if it is 40 feet high and may be too visible and temporary-looking. Other concerns are as stated later in the article by Friends of the Parks, and close proximity to very busy Cornell Drive and across that busy drive from the fieldhouse, and questions about funding and sustainability.


Report on the September 8, 2008 community meeting on the proposed sports facility in Jackson Park, convened by Ald. Hairston and Jackson Park Advisory Council

Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) with JPAC convened a well-attended meeting at South Shore Cultural Center. An extended presentation was followed by ample audience questions and comments. The proposal is sponsored by Athletes Committed to Education, backed by financing firms, and endorsed by many officials and stakeholders. Contact: ACE at 7527 S. Dobson 60619, 312 671-4172.

The presentation included objectives, overview, design, and programs. The air-supported, transparent dome would sit 50 foot high on a platform and at 57,000 sq. ft. not exceed the footprint of the present nine tennis courts (shown to be in very bad shape). The facility will include a more traditional wing for education and support. Included are many facilities for batting or simulating tennis, golf, and baseball year round, plus three good tennis courts. Four mature trees would be removed and soft landscaping substituted. The complex will seek “silver LEEDS” certification with many innovative green features. Construction cost: c. $3 million with a yearly budget of c. a million.

The facility would be free for kids after school for the hours 4-6 pm. Youth under 18 would pay the cost of a card. Those over 18 would pay up to $300 a year on a sliding scale. However, during the summer adults could play tennis for free.

Strong support was expressed for a program that could provide a safe haven for kids and possibly turn lives around, including through learning for living programs as well as sports, while providing a place for youth and others to train for competitive or career sports in a facility now lacking on the South Side.

Main concerns were about giving to a private program and facility, land in a public park, or the need to first complete terms negotiations with and get approval of the park district. Alderman Hairston said the project and discussion is only for this site and park, no other, but agreed that terms must leave the District in ownership and control. ACE said the proposal is that its own staff conduct the program.

Other expressed concerns were about not over-using that section of the park or hurting open vistas or general-public use, and for preserving historic character and template. There was general agreement there should be more community usage of this park, and several testified as to the need for the facility. It was expected there will be another meeting, assuming ACE and the Park District complete negotiations and submit a recommended proposal.

Prepared by Gary Ossewaarde, JPAC Secretary

Hyde Park hears more about tennis "bubble"- sports complex to be supported through a mix of government bonds and member fees. Hyde Park Herald, September 17, 2008, by Crystal Fencke

[Note, this site was unaware of government bonds being involved in the financing; Mr. Mason was said in informal report of a phone interview to not disavow the possibility of such government support. Strongest objection was to turning a public, park facility and function with programming control over to a private group. ]

More than 100 members of communities surrounding Jackson Park turned out last Monday in the solarium [sic Robeson Theater] of the South Shore Cultural Center to hear details about the "bubble" sports complex proposal to enclose the tennis courts in the park.

Local tennis coach, Tyrone Mason is spearheading the plan along with the nonprofit group he founded, Athletes Committed to Education, or ACE. Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th), whose ward encompasses the park, strongly supports the proposal. Its main purpose is to keep young people active in tennis, golf and baseball year-round and to provide a professional springboard, said Mason.

Mason is currently in negotiations with the Chicago Park District. The two groups continue to talk about ownership and lease requirements.

Architect John M. Gay, from Chicago-based JAQ Corp. International, is working on the plans. Gary presented blueprints via PowerPoint presentation showing diagrams of the 57,000-square-foot, 40-foot high complex to house six tennis courts, five batting cages and an area for golf simulators. There would be two buildings, one for administration functions. Gay said tha the "bubble" would be an improvement over the nine existing courts, as three of them retain water and three don't have nets.

Gay showed some of the advantages of the air-supported bubble structure. It can be erected in one day, and if there is a fire it can deflate. He said that the proposed design has "very low" environmental impact, and allows for natural lighting all day right through the flexible material. "When it rains, the soot and dirt wash right off," he said. The plans also include for a wildflower meadow to be planted behind it.

The "bubble" would cost $3 million to build, and $1 million to maintain yearly, said Mason. Although the facility would be in a Chicago park, ACE would have its own payroll expert coaching and other staff. The funding to build it would come from private investors. Moneys for maintenance would come from a combination of a government bond and yearly dues of about $300 per individual member.

Tennis buff Allen Schechter said he worried about the proposed fee. "I'm a little concerned; I play there for free," sid the 45-year resident of South Shore. Mason responded that th e "bubble" structure would only be up during the cooler months [not this site's understanding]. In the summer, players would not have to pay to be members, he said. Mason added that the plan includes keeping fees low for those on limited incomes, by instituting a sliding scale.

Ross Petersen, president of the Jackson Park Advisory Council, has recently expressed doubts about building a structure that could block views of the park. In the meeting, Joan Levin, a former Hyde Park resident, also voiced a concern about the location. "With the University of Chicago acquiring sites all over, there must be land available. What other sites have you considered?" she asked.

That question was not on the table, Hairston stressed, especially after a few other questions bout a possible alternative location followed. She said, "It's not up for discussion. Please--this is about this site. The proposal before us happens to be in Jackson Park."

Myriam Weaver of North Kenwood attended with her two daughters, ages 4 and 6. She supports the project, she said, as she currently has to drive her daughters out of the area for their activities. "There is nothing on the South Side," Weaver said.