Another Step In Transforming Clark Park Today

October 11, 2012
Clark Park is known to neighbors as an undeveloped field west of Lane Tech. With a concrete Deep Tunnel shaft protruding into the soccer pitch, nonetheless it is a favorite place for soccer. Nearby, to the south of the soccer pitch, a crop of trees marks where mountain bikers have one of the only courses for their sport in the city. And along the river there is a busy canoe and kayak rental. It was a park without a permanent building, a relatively undeveloped parcel of land that could be mistaken for a fallow field. And it was given minimal attention by the Chicago Park District till recently. This morning Clark Park will receive a major boost to becoming a major attraction on the North Side as dignitaries gather to break ground on a $5.2 million high school baseball diamond. The diamond is in addition to a $4 million boathouse situated near the Chicago River at the current canoe base and a $7.1 million North Branch Riverwalk Trail connection that will create a bridge over the river to California Park. That project is being administered by the Chicago Department of Transportation. Lane Stadium, itself physically associated with the park, but administered by Chicago Public Schools, is in the second phase of a $3 million upgrade of the field, the locker rooms and other facilities. The Garden, the city's only mountain biking practice facility, is also located in Clark Park. That facility was dedicated in summer 2010 through the efforts of volunteers and without substantial financial support from the city. In total, the park and facilities associated with it in the mind of the public such as Lane Stadium, will receive $24.75 million in additions and renovations over a five year period a May 2012 Bulldog story noted.    

A Cubs Care Park was constructed near Cabrini Green. Designed by Weiss Architects and built by Nayyar & Nayyar, the site has since been developed. Other Cubs themed baseball diamonds are located in Hamlin Park, Thillens Stadium and in Humboldt Park. Credit: Nayyar & Nayyar International

Diamonds by the River   A plan to build a “mini” Wrigley Field near Lane Tech has been discussed for years. At issue is the simple fact that there is no regulation baseball diamond on the North Side for high school sports. The intention is to create a permanent stadium for use by Chicago Public School students and the community. The cost, according to Mike Lufrano, Cubs Vice President of Community Affairs in an interview last year, would be about $4.5 million. A group interested in preserving and improving the Lane Tech experience, put forward a plan called 'Field of Dreams' to develop the fields east of Rockwell in 2005. Parts of the plan, were well received. As a result of the fund raising and advocacy of the group Lane Stadium received lights and the stands are undergoing a much needed rehabilitation. However the plan regarding the baseball diamond and development of Clark Park was not well received. The plan involved closing Rockwell and using part of the fields west of Rockwell for additional baseball diamonds. Those areas are currently used for soccer. We fought hard to get this land,” Bill Barnes of the advisory council said at a 2011 advisory committee about the revised 2011 plan. “We finally acquire the land and special interests want to use it for their own uses.” In 2010 the Clark Park plans got the attention of Fran Spielman, a writer for the Chicago Sun-Times. She claimed in an article plans were on board for a $15 million, 10 acre expansion of Clark Park that would include a mini Wrigley, complete with brick walls and ivy. Sources say the mini-Wrigley needed to use part of the DeVry University parking lot. Negotiations took years, as did efforts to finalize funding from former Cub's Kerry Woods, whose foundation will be putting up some of the funds, according to sources. The mini-Wrigley will resemble a little league park built with the participation of the Cubs in Humboldt Park, they say. That field was designed by Weiss Architecture.   The Boathouses   Soon after being inaugurated to be mayor, Rahm Emanuel announced a plan to build a series of boathouses to increase public access to the Chicago River. But the news took residents by surprise. At a 2011 Clark Park Advisory Council meeting, held at Revere Park, the council questioned the park supervisor and each other the evening the plan was unvieled. But the best source of news, and even ideas on where the $4 million structure will be built, were based on graphics in the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times. No one from the mayor's office or the city had bothered to alert the council of the media event that day announcing the $4 million windfall.Six months ago the park district told the Advisory Council there were no plans and no money for Clark Park,” Bill Barnes, an citizen on the advisory board noted at the meeting. John O'Donnell, Vice President of Friends of the Parks told The Bulldog it wasn't unusual for the city not to talk to the citizens advisory council about plans. O'Donnell said the Friends of the Parks hadn't discussed the boathouses with the park district either.It looks preliminary,” he said. We have concerns about where the money will come from,” O'Donnell told The Bulldog. “We'd like to learn more about” the boathouses too. The proposal would be funded “equally” from private and public sources, according to an architectural blog at the Tribune. In other words, the park district, strapped like many public entities, is 'leveraging' its capital. It was a transformative plan meant to pressure the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District to disinfect effluent pumped into the river. As noted in a Bulldog story earlier this week, studies indicate up to 70 percent of the water flowing past Lockport in the Sanitary and Ship Canal are from MWRD effluent. On the North Branch, the figures are 100 percent during the winter, according to the same reports. The boathouses, another will be built in River Park on the north end of the neighborhood, is part of Emanuel's and the US Environmental Protection Agency's drive to clean the river. The mayor and the EPA are betting that putting more people in the river will force the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District to act. In other words, the boathouses are a political gambit and an amenity.   A Park Without A Swing   The park's advisory council, made up of about half dozen passionate residents, was happy with the attention being paid to the park. But what the citizens park advisory council really wants is a playground for children. None of the plans examined last year call for a children's area. The Cubs and Ald. Ameya Pawar, when interviewed last year said that was a decision that could wait till money is found and plans come closer to being finalized. Similar North Side projects, in Chase Park for example, have cost $3 million. In Welles Park a new playlot cost $600,000.

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