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Bucktown Pie Contest Nixed; Organizers Angry Over Rauner Park Project Cuts

By Alisa Hauser | August 3, 2015 2:14pm
 A Bucktown Apple Pie contest volunteer.
A Bucktown Apple Pie contest volunteer.
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DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser

WICKER PARK — The Bucktown Apple Pie Contest won't be happening this fall, but a "Pie Party" to keep the tradition of the spirited fundraiser alive is set for Sept. 20, officials announced Monday.

Organizers of the event, which attracts thousands, thought that Holstein Park's 102-year-old field house would be closed for repairs, so there was no plan to have a contest inside the field house this year, said Maria Mariottini, president of the Friends of Holstein Park Advisory Council. 

While campaigning for re-election in September, former Gov. Pat Quinn announced that a $1.2 million Parks and Recreational Facility Construction (PARC) grant would be awarded to the Chicago Park District so that the aging field house could be renovated.

 Repairs to an old field house in Bucktown have been tabled due to a freeze in state funding.
Holstein Park Field House in Bucktown
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With renovations expected, they decided instead to throw a free Pie Party, which will be held at Senior Citizens Memorial Park, 2238 N. Oakley Ave. from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sept. 20. That event, behind the field house, will include entertainment, live music and pie sales, featuring fresh apple pie donated by past Bucktown Apple Pie Contest participants and new donors.

The goal of the party is to "thank the community for past support, provide a means for updating neighbors on park renovations, offer family-friendly fun, and raise funds for park improvements," Mariottini said, adding, "We wanted to keep the tradition alive and still raise money, and people can still bake, the pies just won't be judged."

Over the past 10 years, volunteers from Holstein Park have collectively raised $100,000 through the annual Bucktown Apple Pie contests, Circus in The Parks performances and other special events, such as the "Holstein 100," a celebration of the park's centennial in 2012.

Mariottini said pie contest organizers "assumed the field house would be closed for construction since renovations were supposed to have already started."

The field house has a leaky roof, a swimming pool filter that often breaks, and bathrooms that need plumbing, electrical, and other core system updates, including sewage and drainage, according to Scott Jacobs, renovation chairman of the Friends of Holstein Park Advisory Council.

As it turns out, the field house renovations ended up caught in a political tug-of-war.

In February Gov. Bruce Rauner froze $28 million in state grants, including the money set aside for Holstein's field house and 26 other projects at 25 other parks. He froze the funds, he said, because Democrats in the State Legislature "knowlingly voted for a budget that intentionally left our state with a $1.6 billion hole."

In an impassioned letter to Rauner, Jacobs urged the new governor to reconsider the freeze, saying that the project was "shovel-ready" with contractors lined up and bids approved.

Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) has also earmarked $300,000 of his ward "menu fund" to the estimated $2.1 million project. The Chicago Park District chipped in $375,000 and helped to secure another $50,000 from the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO).

Paul Sajovec, Chief of Staff for Waguespack (32nd), said on Monday that the alderman has "not completely thrown in the towel" and that it's "a possibility that some of that money might be released in 2015."  But the future of the project is still unclear, he said.

In his letter to Rauner, Jacobs said that "none of the repairs are cosmetic, or extravagant" and that neighbors "went through extensive community meetings to pare down a list of potential improvements to the park."

"Good government is smart government, and moving forward with the Holstein renovation is a smart, and economical, way of leveraging a small state grant to make big improvements that will have a major impact on the quality of life in our neighborhood. We’ve been disappointed too many times before by politicians playing politics. Let’s hope you’re not just another one," Jacobs wrote to Rauner.

Located at 2200 N. Oakley Ave., Holstein Park is named after laborers and craftsmen from Schleswig-Holstein, a region of Germany. Settlers from that area became Bucktown's earliest residents in the 1850s.

Bucktown Apple Party Poster (Designed by Laura Collins)

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