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Morgan Park Sports Center Moves Forward Amid Applause And Concerns

By Howard Ludwig | January 31, 2014 10:39am
 Amid concern and applause, the details of the Morgan Park Sports Center were unveiled on Thursday night at the Beverly Arts Center. Some residents worried about parking and traffic that will result from the planned closure of 115th Street at Western Avenue.
Morgan Park Sports Center
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MORGAN PARK — Details of a proposed ice rink and gymnastics center drew both applause and concern Thursday night among residents of Morgan Park.

The Beverly Arts Center hosted the community meeting to provide specific plans for the Morgan Park Sports Center. A groundbreaking for the $12 million indoor ice rink and gymnastics center is planned for this summer, said Ald. Matt O'Shea (19th).

"This is the largest investment we've seen in this community in years," O'Shea said of the 62,000-square-foot facility that will be owned by the Chicago Park District.

The Morgan Park Sports Center will occupy two long-vacant parcels on the northeast and southeast sides of the intersection at 115th Street and Western Avenue.

In an effort to join the two lots, 115th Street will be closed to through traffic, O'Shea said.

That troubled some nearby residents. Many worried the closure would lead to increased traffic on residential streets. Others voiced concern about parking, particularly for big hockey games and gymnastics competitions.

Indeed, the parking lot just north of the 62,000-square-foot building will have just 74 spots when the building opens in summer 2015.

The park district hopes to partner with Chicago Public Schools, which operates an office building on the northwest corner of 115th Street and Western Avenue. The plan is to allow visitors of the sports center to use the 56 spaces in the CPS parking lot on evenings and weekends, said Patrick Callahan, principal of Studio GC, which worked on the design of the building.

This did little to quell concerns, as many residents pointed to the seating for upward of 1,000 spectators in the ice arena alone as a reason to add more parking.

Chris Hutchinson of TERRA Engineering also detailed the findings of a traffic study, conducted while 115th Street was temporarily closed at Western Avenue in November and early December.

He said the study found that 60 percent of the traffic that had been using 115th Street moved to 111th Street and 119th Street during the closure. The area also saw a 20 percent drop in overall traffic volume, indicating many drivers simply avoided the area entirely as a result of the closure of 115th.

The 20 percent of drivers that did enter the neighborhood using residential streets spread out their points of entry, meaning the burden of the increased traffic didn't fall squarely on any one particular street, Hutchinson said.

"It wasn't as bad as people perceived it was going to be," he said.

Not everyone attending the meeting felt satisfied with the answers provided by the panel. But supporters of the project broke out in applause on several occasions.

Marty Nitsche of Morgan Park lives near St. Cajetan Catholic Church. He said he's frequently inconvenienced by parking for church and school events. Large performances at the Beverly Arts Center occasionally add to congestion in front of his house as well.

"The benefits outweigh the negatives," Nitsche said. "People come. They park. They leave ... This [sports center] is great for our community, and our property values are going to rise because of it."