ROSCOE VILLAGE — A pair of 47th Ward parks are set to receive nearly $5 million in combined Tax Increment Financing dollars to fund improvements — some of the projects highly anticipated, others not as welcome.
Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) has introduced ordinances to the City Council directing $3.5 million in TIF funds to Clark Park and $1.3 million to Welles Park, with the former having already received his colleagues' stamp of approval.
"Schools came first, and now parks," Pawar said of his use of TIF.
Patty Wetli breaks down the TIF money and why some neighbors are upset about the upgrades:
At Clark Park, 3400 N. Rockwell St., the TIF funds will ensure that previously announced projects come to fruition.
Of the $3.5 million, $2 million is being set aside for remediation of contaminated soil on the site of Kerry Wood Cubs Field, a regulation high school baseball stadium to be shared by Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Park District.
The remaining dollars will pay for additional upgrades at Clark Park, including construction of a soccer field at Addison and Rockwell, according to Pawar.
A track-and-field facility for throwing events — discus, javelin, shot put, etc. — is another piece of the Clark Park puzzle. The baseball stadium's footprint has encroached on an existing throwing space behind Lane Tech College Prep High School, which was funded by DePaul and is used by the university and Chicago Public Schools as part of a lease agreement that runs through 2028. This area will now be situated next to the planned soccer field.
Though the Clark Park Advisory Council has been pushing for a soccer field for years as part of its "framework" plan — essentially a wish list/guide for future park developments — the track-and-field facility, supported by Pawar, threw the group for a loop when presented as a fait accompli.
"It's disheartening for us," said Bill Donahue, the advisory council's president. "It's not in our park plan."
Rather, the park council is "interested in as much public use as possible" — in particular, the group has pressed for a playground — versus track and field's "really narrow user base," he said.
"I get that they're upset," Pawar said. "They've been dreaming of this [framework] for almost two decades."
The alderman said once projects already in motion are completed, he'll turn his attention toward accomplishing what he termed "phase two" at Clark Park, referring to the advisory council's goals.
Donahue is taking a wait-and-see attitude.
"Do they care what they advisory council has planned? You're supposed to work toward funding those ideas," he said. "At the very least, there should be a public process."
Welles Park Maintenance Long Overdue
At Welles Park, 2333 W. Sunnyside Ave., TIF dollars will go toward a new playground for older children, locker room and plumbing upgrades, a new fieldhouse roof and resurfacing of the park's tennis courts.
"The lockers are rusting out — you can't lock them," said Stephen Waguespack, who heads up the Welles Park Advisory Council. "The plumbing system is pretty bad and the ventilation is worse."
Citing the thousands of youngsters who participate in Welles Park's baseball and football programs, as well as those who use the park's pool and gym, and attend special events such as Shakespeare in the Park and Circus in the Park, Waguespack noted that Welles is one of the most utilized parks in the city.
"If you go there on any Saturday or Sunday, both playgrounds are completely packed. People are coming from all over the city," he said. "I think it's essential to keep Welles Park up to date. We need to make sure the facilities are in the best shape as possible," he said.
The advisory council dedicated a new toddler playground in 2012 — the first phase of a two-part plan that also included replacing the existing playground for older children. Having received financial assistance from the Park District for the toddler area, Welles was then ineligible for the Chicago Plays! program, which is funding playground improvements city-wide.
Over the past seven years, the advisory council has accrued $100,000 toward the second playground, needing $300,000 more to reach its capital goal.
"I didn't want to that kind of stress on the advisory council," Pawar said of his decision to put TIF money toward the playground.
"The playground has been the major focus for so long ... it takes the burden off," said Waguespack.
Even with the infusion of TIF dollars, Waguespack said the advisory council intends to continuing its fundraising efforts.
"There's still a lot of work to be done," he said, listing park programming, children's events and the potential replacement of any lost ash trees. "We need to make sure the small things in the park can still be done. It's not just spending on [the playground]. There's a lot more organizations within Welles Park and going forward, we can help them."
With its newfound largesse, Welles Park now also has the ability to "pay it forward" to nearby parks that don't reside in a TIF district.
The advisory council is in the midst of finalizing an agreement to share Circus in the Park revenue with Gross Park and Horner Park, the latter of which is in the midst of a campaign to finance a dog park.
Welles patrons had also expressed interest in a dog run, an idea that "came up against a pretty big wall" when presented to the community, according to Waguespack.
Lending a hand to Horner's efforts could satisfy that need, he said.
Waguespack estimated that the new playground, to be built at Western and Sunnyside, is likely to be constructed by 2016.
"I think everybody's excited to get the playlot done," he said.