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Chopin Park Supporters Hope Renovations Will Revitalize Neighborhood

 Friends of Chopin Park are hoping to renovate the "ancient" playground and start a chain reaction that will improve the neighborhood.
Friends of Chopin Park are hoping to renovate the "ancient" playground and start a chain reaction that will improve the neighborhood.
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flickr/Cragin Spring

PORTAGE PARK — Pam Kleinert was certain that she and her husband had found the next hot neighborhood eight years ago when they moved to the city's Northwest Side, not far from Chopin Park.

Then the housing market imploded and all of the progress in Portage Park seemed to grind to a halt.

"We wanted a big yard and a driveway, and all the cute family stuff," said Kleinert, who has children in fourth and fifth grade as well as twin kindergartners. "But then everything fell apart."

Determined to make her vision of Portage Park a reality, Kleinert is leading the charge to create a park advisory council to spearhead the revitalization of the park named after the renowned Polish composer. Its first order of business: replace the park's dirty and dangerous playground.

"The park could be so much better," Kleinert said.

Kleinert said she was confident improvements to the park would "snowball" and benefit the entire neighborhood by encouraging families to get more involved in nearby institutions such as Rineberg Elementary School.

The park, 3420 N. Long Ave., has a fieldhouse, four baseball fields, a soccer field, four horseshoe pits and basketball hoops, as well as tennis and volleyball courts.

Although the park is now in Ald. Tim Cullerton's 38th Ward, it will become part of Ald. Ariel Reboyras' 30th Ward as part of the remapping of the City Council boundaries.

"It is a nice little park, but the playground is ancient," said Cullerton, who encouraged Kleinert to start an advisory council when she called him with concerns about the park. "And the building is falling apart."

Cullerton, with Reboyras' help, has been working to get Chopin's eight acres added to the Belmont Central Tax Increment Financing district, which ends four blocks from the park. The annexation, which will make it much easier to fund improvements at the park, has been delayed, Cullerton said.

"It is long overdue," Cullerton said, calling efforts to improve the park an ongoing battle.

The tennis courts are in need of an upgrade, too, Cullerton said, acknowledging that gang members have been known to frequent the park.

"The park should be at the center of the community," Cullerton said. "The more good people go there, the fewer bad guys will want to hang around."

The first meeting of the Friends of Chopin Park is set for sometime in April. For more information, email friendsofchopinpark@gmail.com.