GRANT PARK — Best known for hosting festivals and the occasional skater, Grant Park may also soon be home to the city's biggest outdoor gym.
A group of fitness companies corralled by a Chicagoan wants to open a 36,000-square-foot workout area in the lakefront park colloquially known as "Chicago's front yard." The area, known as a "FitLot," would be decidedly low-tech with equipment including free weights, chin-up bars, and other materials for resistance training.
"Exercise is something that should be a free good to all people," said Omari Jinaki, a Printers Row resident behind the idea. "It's how nature in the park brings the community together in a way an indoor gym does not."
Jinaki, who moved back to his native Chicago eight months ago, hatched the idea while working out at similar parks in New York. He linked up with FitLot, a New Orleans non-profit, Los Angeles event company FitExpo and North Carolina equipment manufacturer PlayPower before bringing his idea to the Grant Park Conservancy and Chicago Park District.
Watch: A crowdfunding video for a New Orleans FitLot.
Though some parts of the lakefront already have exercise areas, the one proposed for Grant Park — stretching nearly an acre — would certainly be the biggest and most prominent. Bob O'Neill, president of the Grant Park Conservancy, said the group is eyeing Hutchinson Field — where Lollapalooza is annually held — or a triangular swath of land just north of the Grant Park Skate Park for its FitLot. O'Neill said the group is looking at both permanent and mobile options that would host classes as well as drop-in exercise.
The group wants to open the fitness park next year, and O'Neill said renderings will be released by the end of the month. Jessica Maxey-Faulkner, a park district spokeswoman, did not have an immediate comment on the proposal or the park district's opinion of it. Representatives of PlayPower and FitLot did not immediately return messages.
O'Neill shared news of the proposal at a Thursday conservancy meeting, where some neighbors aired concerns the fitness area could consume too much of Grant Park's green space. But Jinaki said those concerns will be assuaged by his plans for an open-air gym with a surface coated by native plants, maybe even mimicking the colorful flowers of nearby Lurie Garden at the southern end of Millennium Park.
"That's mandatory," he said. "Not even imitation, but natural environs."
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