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Rebuilding our parks

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By Gary Ossewaarde, HPKCC Parks Chair. This new page welcomes short discussion pieces for consideration for inclusion. Contact the chairman about parks committee meetings. Meanwhile,

Tribune article of July 6, 2007 - Garage leases to fuel park upgrades- DAley says deals brought $122 million; projects will be spread around city.

Summary (by Gary Ossewaarde):

The needs of Chicago's parks is enormous- $2 billion says General Superintendent Timothy J. Mitchell. Added to the usual annual capital budget the next two years is $122 million from the leasing of the downtown garages, a move praised by such diverse organizations as Friends of the Parks and the Civic Federation. Part of this goes to create five new fieldhouses, including on the South Side at Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson, and Taylor-Lauridsen parks. Numerous other projects and renovations include over $2 million previously announced for South Shore Cultural Center (with the advisory council and local community now deciding priorities).

Yet, the upkeep and renovation backlog ($2 billion) is so large and the budget and management to oversee upkeep up old and new facilities is so inadequate that many parks supporters are at the point of asking a moratorium until there can be a larger commitment to upkeep including of new facilities-- so many new as well as historic facilities and plantings have just been allowed to fall apart. Many of our large supply of fieldhouses were built by the WPA in the 1930s--there is a joint effort to get the feds to finance fix up through the currently unfunded Urban Parks program.

And it is not easy to "rebuild" when terrible parties and other ill-users regularly tear up the parks and facilities like benches.

Many hope and expect that the coming of the Olympics can spur not only more needed improvements but that part of the legacy be commitment to upkeep. Among permanent improvements already announced are the aquatic Olympic training facility in Douglas Park and the amphitheater to follow the Olympic stadium in Washington Park. Councils, community organizations and residents are also meeting to seek ways that impacted parks and users are helped as well as the parks left better.


Article, by Gary Washburn

Money from leasing four publicly owned downtown parking garages will provide financing for about 100 neighborhood park-improvement projects, from new fieldhouses at five parks to new playgrounds at 50 others.

The $122 million for the projects also will help pay for what were described as major renovations for existing park facilities such as the South Shore Cultural Center, the Broadway Armory and Garfield Park's historic golden-domed fieldhouse.

"It certainly is the largest amount of capital dollars in one sum that I remember seeing in th last 20 years," said Erma Tranter, president of Friends of the Parks. "This is a unique opportunity to do more major facility construction in neighborhoods of need."

In some cases, money from the parking deal is being combined with state and federal funds and private contributions to get projects off the drawing board, officials said.

Owens Park, 2032 E. 88th St., slated for a new fieldhouse and the site of Daley's news conference, was highlighted as one example. About $3.5 million from the garage deal "will end up generating a total of over $8.5 million to give the people of this community the kind of park they want and deserve," Daley said. "And that's what we intend to do across the city." the Owens project also will receive $3.45 million from the state, money from the city and private donations to be raised by the Jesse Owens Park Advisory Council, officials said.

Enthusiastic members of the advisory councils attended the news conference. "Most people would have walked away, but they persisted over 10 years," Tranter said. Officials "just awarded them for being so persistent."

Other new fieldhouses will be built at Haas, Tayor-Lauridsen, Valley Forge and Robinson Parks. Because of limited resources, new fieldhouse in Chicago have been rare. The last one was built at Fosco Park about three years ago, officials said.

The garage funds represent the bulk of Park district money available for construction projects during the next two years, according to the district's five-year capital improvement plan. The district typically is able to budget only about $35 million annually for such expense, but will spend about $60 million in both 207 and 2008.

But as with other public agencies, what is needed still far exceeds the resources available, said parks General Supt. Timothy Mitchell. Bringing the system back to good condition would require more than $2 billion, he said.

New York City has more park acreage than Chicago, but only 34 fieldhouses, compared with 250 here, he said. "The fieldhouse concept, with staffing and programs--there is no park district in the nation" like Chicago's Mitchell said. But "that is a blessing and a curse,: he added. "We have these old, historic fieldhouses like South Shore. I could spend $30 million at South Shore [alone]."

It would cost $2 million just to replace the windows at the sprawling lakefront facility, officials said. Instead, interior improvement will be aimed at making more efficient use of the building's second [sic] floor.

Critics have complained that Daley invests too much in downtown attractions such as Millennium Park and Northerly Island, but the projects to be financed rom the garage lease proceeds are scattered throughout the city's neighborhoods. Many are in areas of the West and South Sides that need them most, Tranter said.

One of the biggest projects to be financed out of the $122 million kitty is a new aquatics center in Douglas Park on the West Side. Besides serving residents, it will be used for the 2016 Olympics if Chicago wins its bid to host the Games.

Twenty-five parks under the district's plan will receive improvements such as athletic field work, planting and painting. Meanwhile, artificial turf will be installed in Calumet, Lincoln, McKinley and Riis Parks and the Hawthorne School campus.

The city's Millennium Park garage and the Park District-owned East Monroe, Grant Park North and grant Park South garages were leased for 99 years to Morgan Stanley's investment management division under a deal Daley announced in October.

Officials at the time conceded that the transaction could result in higher parking rates at the four facilities. LAZ Parking, which operates the garages for Morgan Stanley, recently raised daily fees at the facilities by $1 to $3 and now imposes a $20 "special event" fee when downtown festivals are being held.

Nevertheless, the Civic Federation, a tax watchdog group, endorses the lease deal. The organization "would be opposed and very disappointed if the city or Park District attempted to use th proceeds [of he lease] for operating expenses because it would be dangerous to use such one-time revenues to grow the budget," said President Laurence Msall. But "we believe it appropriate to use the proceeds for capital [projects] or anything else that improves the Park District's long-term financial position."