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Fight Over Grant Park Tennis Courts Gets Ugly

By Lizzie Schiffman Tufano | October 8, 2014 2:12pm | Updated on October 8, 2014 6:10pm
 Two factions lobbying for and against tennis courts coming to Peanut Park voiced their perspectives at the Park District Board Meeting Wednesday.
Tennis Courts in Peanut Park Cause Controversy
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CHICAGO — A fight over whether to put six tennis courts in the northeast corner of Maggie Daley Park boiled over at a Park District Board Meeting Wednesday afternoon.

Two strongly opposed factions recently have emerged over plans to build six courts in a portion of the park known as Peanut Park after 12 courts were removed for Maggie Daley Park's reconstruction.

Both groups sent representatives with petitions, illustrated maps and other materials to the meeting to demonstrate support for and against the plan to build the courts.

Grant Park Conservancy President Bob O'Neill, who opposes the tennis courts, said the faceoff has turned so ugly in the last week that someone called police on people who were collecting signatures opposing the tennis courts near the Mariano's in Lakeshore East.

 Maggie Daley Park plans from 2012 drawn up by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates included six tennis courts in Peanut Park.
Maggie Daley Park plans from 2012 drawn up by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates included six tennis courts in Peanut Park.
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Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates

"There's a big battle going on out there," said O'Neill, who said the conversation between the two groups has gotten "nasty."

Those opposing the courts have argued that the area, which is between Lake Shore Drive and the Cancer Survivor's Garden, should be left as green space and said the Park District hasn't given them an equal chance to voice their perspective.

"We heard last Wednesday, seven days ago, that plans to build these tennis courts were moving forward," said Jon Mitchell, who is leading the tennis court opposition. "In that time, we've gotten more than 300 letters of support — with signatures and addresses — saying they don't want them there."

Pat Reis, who has lived in New Eastside for 14 years, said tennis courts benefit "only a few people."

"When you have six tennis courts taking up all that space, they can only be used a short time of the year, you have to pay to use them, they're locked up, and there's a big fence around them," Reis said. "They can't be used by people who want to go cross-country skiing, or run their dog around, when they're locked up."

The advocates want the Park District to re-evaluate the plan.

But officials said the plans have been in the works all along and were included on Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates plan in 2012.

"There has always been a plan to build the tennis courts in Peanut Park that was approved via the Plan Commission in 2012," Martha Donnelly, spokeswoman for Ald. Brandon Reilly (42nd), said Wednesday. "A rumor mill started some misinformation that tennis courts wouldn't be built, but they were always going to be built. There was public process."

Jessica Maxey-Faulkner, a spokeswoman for the Chicago Park District, said she was unaware of the disagreement over Peanut Park before Wednesday morning. She confirmed plans still called for including the courts at the park.

Meanwhile, more than 400 people — many of whom live in the nearby New Eastside neighborhood — have signed a petition distributed by a group called Keep Tennis in North Grant Park. The petition asks the Park District to "keep the promise you made at several 2012 public hearings to rebuild six tennis courts in the Peanut Park area of Maggie Daley Park."

The group argues on its website that "many residents moved to our neighborhood and purchased condominiums partly because their family enjoyed living near tennis courts."

Proponents argued at the meeting Wednesday that the dozen courts along Columbus Drive are inaccessible during many Downtown events like the Chicago Marathon that close off surrounding streets.

If tennis courts aren't built, "there will now be many disappointed tennis players in the New Eastside community and workers in the Downtown area that are still looking forward to reconstructed modern tennis courts," the group says on its website.

Since the plans to include the courts had already been approved, the board took no action on the measure at Wednesday's meeting. Later Wednesday, Keep Tennis in North Grant Park declared victory on its website, citing "re-affirmation" from Park District commissioners and Reilly that the tennis courts would be built.

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