EDISON PARK — Melissa Panizzi thought she had a foolproof plan to turn the rotted, rusted, drab and dangerous playlot outside the Edison Park field house into a state-of-the-art playground.
Panizzi, executive director of the Edison Park Chamber of Commerce, wanted to convert the playground into a shrine to the 2010 Stanley Cup-winning Chicago Blackhawks and rename it in honor of team president and CEO John McDonough, who grew up in the Northwest Side neighborhood.
But Chicago Park District officials shot down the plan, citing a policy that prohibits parks and playgrounds from being named after people until at least a year after they die.
“It was going to be great,” Panizzi said. “We were going to have hockey sticks on the side of the slide.”
More than a year after they first presented their plan to the Chicago Park District Board of Commissioners, Panizzi and other Edison Park officials are renewing their push, pointing to the park district’s recent decision to name a baseball stadium at Clark Park for former Cubs pitcher Kerry Wood.
“If they can name a baseball stadium for Kerry Wood, why not a playground for John McDonough?” Panizzi asked.
Panizzi said McDonough had agreed to help raise $500,000 to renovate the playlot. McDonough agreed to offer donors a chance to fly with the Blackhawks to an away game on the team’s plane and sit with him in the president’s box during a game at the United Center, Panizzi said.
McDonough and the Blackhawks declined to comment. Before joining the Blackhawks in 2007, McDonough spent 24 years with the Chicago Cubs.
Chicago Park District spokeswoman Jessica Maxey-Faulkner said exceptions to its policy on naming parks can only be made “upon a finding of an extraordinary circumstance by the general superintendent.”
Ground was broken in October on the baseball stadium named after Wood near Lane Technical High School in the North Center neighborhood.
The other exemption to the naming policy is the Margaret Burroughs Art Gallery at the South Shore Cultural Center, 7059 S. South Shore Dr. The gallery was named for Burroughs — an artist, DuSable Museum founder and former park board commissioner — before her death, Maxey-Faulkner said.
However, in both cases, the name of the parks remained the same, while a feature within the park was renamed, Maxey-Faulkner added.
The chamber has no desire to rename Edison Park, only the playground, Panizzi said.
The park district replaces 15 to 20 playgrounds each year, based upon factors that include playground age and availability of funds, Maxey-Faulkner said.
Although the chamber’s request that the playground be replaced is on file, the park district has not received any funds toward the project, Maxey-Faulkner said.
Typically, the park district will pay for one-third of the cost to replace a playground, with another third coming from a community group or park advisory council, and a third coming from the alderman’s discretionary infrastructure fund, Maxey-Faulkner said.
Although Panizzi said Ald. Mary O’Connor (41st) had agreed to use money from her 2013 budget to renovate the playlot, Jason Hernandez, O’Connor’s senior adviser, said money had not been earmarked for that purpose.
“We wanted to fully fund the project,” Panizzi said. “That is much easier to do with Mr. McDonough’s help.”
Because the playlot equipment is deteriorating and outdated, few parents allow their children to use the playground, Panizzi said.
“I would never allow my 3-year-old and my 6-year-old to play on this,” Panizzi said, pushing the swing set, causing it to shake back and forth.
Maria Dmyterko Stone, director of neighborhood parks and community relations for the watchdog group Friends of the Parks, said it was clear why people would choose to play somewhere else. Stone is working with Panizzi to renovate the park.
“It is sad and depressing,” Stone said. “The life cycle of a playlot should be 20 years.”
The surface of the playlot is covered with wood chips, but the soft surface is barely an inch thick in places, Stone said.
“There should be 6 inches of coverage in the fall zones” where children jump off the equipment, Stone said.
The park district has no record of children being injured on the playground from May to September 2012, according to Maria Castaneda, the park district’s freedom of information officer.
The decrepit playground is also hurting efforts to draw more shoppers to the Edison Park business district along Northwest Highway, Panizzi said.
“It is just not used as it should be,” Panizzi said. “But we’ve been ignored.”