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Grant Park Skate Park Gets $1.5M Pledge from Rahm after Plea from Advocates

 Supporters of the skate park blitzed City Hall with funding pleas last week before time ran out to qualify for Tax Increment Financing dolllars.
Grant Park Skate Park
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SOUTH LOOP — The city plans to ask for an additional $1.5 million in Tax Increment Financing to round out the funding for a dazzling new skate park planned for Grant Park.

Shannon Breymaier, a spokeswoman for Mayor Rahm Emanuel, said Wednesday that officials would ask the City Council to approve the money at a meeting in March. One million dollars in TIF funds are already committed to the project.

Emanuel "look[s] forward to the completion of the project," Breymaier said, adding that the mayor supported the idea of turning the 3-acre space in the southwest corner of Grant Park into a wheel-friendly plaza, further "ensuring that every Chicago child is within a 10-minute walk to a park or playground."

If the funding is approved, the entire project will go to bid immediately, said Bob O'Neill, president of the Grant Park Conservancy, which has been lobbying on behalf of the project since 2006, when it was introduced in conjunction with Maggie Daley Park renovations.

The clock has been ticking for eight years on the skate park, and O'Neill said time's almost up. To qualify for TIF money this year, projects need to be completed by the end of 2014.

Before Wednesday's announcement, in an effort to secure the additional funds needed for the project, O'Neill sent an appeal last week to the mayor's office, Park District Supt. Michael Kelly and "a host of other commissioners" that included more than 100 letters from eager skateboarders, rollerbladers and cyclists.

"I got word of the proposed idea to build a skatepark in Chicago's Grant Park, and I feel that would do a great service to the city," wrote Jeff Zielinski, associate editor at RideBMX magazine. "Such a venue would not only attract local talent, but visitors from across the country ... would certainly visit Chicago for the chance to ride a new and exciting skatepark."

"I grew up skateboarding and getting heckled by security guards, cops and pedestrians for skating in the Loop," wrote Jack Rumsey, an economics major at Illinois State University. "If you approve this skate plaza, it will pay itself off in lack of damage to public property, crime, and bring in revenue to the surrounding area."

TIF funding is possible because that section of the park at Roosevelt Road and Michigan Avenue is "the only area in Grant Park that's in a TIF district" outright, O'Neill said, though TIF money has been extended to cover projects elsewhere in the park in the past.

O'Neill said it's possible that fulfilling the high-concept ideas captured in previously released renderings of the park — which include a projection screen for showing movies and the use of reclaimed train rails for grinding surfaces — could cost as much as $3.5 million. To close the gap, he's looking for private funding, and he has been in touch with Lollapalooza and Red Bull about possible sponsorship opportunities.

The energy drink company, which has a Chicago-based branch, recently launched a campaign called #RBDailyGrind that builds temporary skate parks in Loop offices.

A spokeswoman confirmed the Chicago Park District, which would oversee the project, “is working with the community to pursue other funding opportunities."

O'Neill said he's going to do everything he can to see the project gets completed.

"I'm going to do everything I can that's legal and ethical to make this happen," O'Neill said. "I'm not going to prison for this skate park, but this is one [project] where I really feel this one. I just think it's meant to happen.

"If I have to, I'll be out there with a shovel myself."