BEVERLY — Residents of the far Southwest Side will have some new places to skate, tumble and climb thanks to two major recreational projects on tap in Beverly and Morgan Park.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel officially unveiled plans on Saturday for an indoor ice rink and gymnastics center in Morgan Park before moving on to a groundbreaking at a prominent playground in Beverly.
The mayor's recreational tour of the Southwest Side was highlighted by plans for the Morgan Park Sports Center. As DNAinfo first reported, the $12 million project transforms a pair of long vacant lots at 115th Street and Western Avenue into a regional attraction.
"Rather than an eyesore, this will be a family center," Emanuel said.
Emanuel was surrounded neighborhood children wearing hockey jerseys and passed along credit for the project to Ald. Matt O'Shea (19th).
"Here in the 19th Ward, we make no small plans," O'Shea said.
The Morgan Park Sports Center sits on 2.5 acres of land that's been vacant since the early 1980s. A groundbreaking is set for the spring, with a targeted completion date forecast for the summer of 2015.
The city will spend $6 million in tax-increment financing funds on the project. The state is also pitching in $4 million, and the park district will contribute $2 million, according to a park district official.
"Roll out the gymnastics mats and sharpen those skates," O'Shea said.
Plans for the sports center showed 115th Street will be closed just east of the new development, and the street closure has been hot topic in the neighborhood.
Residents in favor of the closure believe the move will cut down on high-speed traffic rolling down 115th Street, while others believe closing the arterial street will create a logistical nightmare for residents traveling west.
After the Morgan Park announcement, Emanuel drove three miles to Ridge Park at 9625 S. Longwood Drive in Beverly. The aged swing set and climbing structure had already been dismantled as the mayor touted plans to rehab the playground through the Chicago Plays! initiative.
The $100,000 rehab of the Ridge Park playground will be completed in the next four weeks, said Michael Kelly, park district superintendent.
Ridge Park's playground is particularly visible, as several notable events use the area as a jumping off point, including the Beverly Breast Cancer Walk, the Ridge Run and the Beverly Hills/Morgan Park Memorial Day Parade.
Moira McGee of Morgan Park was on hand for the announcement at the playground. She frequently visits the indoor pool at Ridge Park and occasionally pushes her three children on the swings afterward.
"We will definitely use it [the playground] more," McGee said.
After a full day of announcing improvements in the Beverly and Morgan Park, the mayor joked he was tempted to stay even longer.
"I might just decide to move here," Emanuel said.