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Clarendon Park Field House Plan Raises Hope in Uptown

By Adeshina Emmanuel | December 20, 2013 10:39am
 The dilapidated and deteriorating Clarendon Park Community Center was dropped from a developers TIF district plans.
Clarendon Park
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UPTOWN — Every time the young poets, artists and dancers in Uptown's Kuumba Lynx urban arts program head to the second floor of the Clarendon Park Community Center, they have to sweep up "white stuff" that falls from the ceiling.

And when it rains, "we have a flood upstairs," said program co-founder Jacinda Bullie.

"We just are kind of quiet and make the best of it," she said about the Chicago Park District property, Kuumba Lynx's headquarters in Uptown for 12 years. "But no other park on the lakefront looks like that."

It takes one quick walk through 4501 N. Clarendon Ave. to recognize the dilapidated, deteriorated field house's cries for help.

A clog-prone water drainage system, combined with a leaky roof and a lack of maintenance, has left the nearly 100-year-old building with exterior cracks, severely water-damaged ceilings and support columns, and crumbling plaster and paint.

Those are just some of the issues with the field house, which opened as a beach house in 1916 and was reborn as a community center in the late 1930s when the park district decided to stretch Lincoln Park (the park, not the neighborhood) north. That nudged the lakefront east and filled in Clarendon Municipal Beach.

This week, the office of Ald. James Cappleman (46th) said in a statement that Cappleman will work with the Chicago Park District to use Tax Increment Finance dollars "and other funding" to renovate the building.

Cappleman's office didn't specify how much money that would take or when the project would happen.

Uptown residents, after years of hoping for the two-story structure's revitalization, thought it might get the help it needs from JDL Development. The company's plan for a more than $200 million development in the Clarendon/Montrose TIF District included a request for a $32 million subsidy from the city. About $8 million would have gone toward Clarendon Park.

But when JDL presented the latest version of the controversial plan to the community late in November, after months of discussions with the city, the TIF request had shrunken down to $14 million and the field house was yanked out of the plan.

Cappleman's office said the city's goal was to make the subsidy "as little as possible" without jeopardizing the housing project.

JDL President Jim Letchingter said the TIF request was so big before because he wanted "to help the field house."

"The city didn't want to see it that way," he said. "They feel that there will be other opportunities to get the field house work done."

He said money pooled in the TIF district's fund, "if the project works," would eventually help improve the field house. TIF districts freeze property taxes within the boundaries of an established district for 23 years, and funnel revenue growth into a fund that can be used for infrastructure repairs, subsidies and other improvements to the community. The Montrose/Clarendon TIF expires in 2034, according to the city.

Clarendon Park Neighbors Association President Janis Tiffin said she's fine with the field house being yanked from JDL's plans — which an advisory committee created by Cappleman will discuss and possibly vote on Jan. 6 — just as long as the city and park district follow through.

"I would have liked the TIF [subsidy] to be larger so there was more money they could pull out right now for the park. But the city did what they did and as long as they have promised to allocate money to the park as it comes in, I'm happy," Tiffin said

Although Bullie wants the field house improved and was disappointed that JDL could receive public money but isn't obligated to fix the building, she said tying the renovation of the fieldhouse to a private developer's public tax subsidy "was like a deal with the devil" in the first place.

"There's a tradeoff, and you see that all the time in this city," she said. "Why can't TIF funds just automatically go to fix the park district?"