GRANT PARK — The outdoor gym proposed for Grant Park has drawn the endorsement of a local professor, who's volunteering his Kinesiology students to teach classes.
Ross Arena, a South Loop resident and head of the physical therapy department at the University of Illinois-Chicago, has thrown his support behind the 36,000-square-foot fitness area proposed late last year for the Downtown park.
On Wednesday, he told Grant Park neighbors the free, outdoor gym would not only be the largest of its kind in the city, but also be one of its strongest steps yet to shift the culture contributing to the nation's obesity epidemic. Arena was joined by more than a dozen UIC students, about 2,000 of whom Arena said could be made available to teach exercise classes.
"We're talking about creating a culture of movement," said Arena, who's also the university's interim head of Kinesiology. "Chicago can be the leader in healthy lifestyle going forward."
Arena spoke during Wednesday's meeting of the Grant Park Conservancy, which in December introduced its idea for an outdoor fitness area proposed just south of Balbo Avenue and west of Columbus Drive. The site, the former Grant Park skate park, would be planted with a native surface where people could participate in fitness classes and otherwise work out for free. The gym would focus more on calisthenics, yoga and other resistance training instead of weights.
The idea was devised by Omari Jinaki, another South Loop resident who was inspired by similar parks in New York. He teamed up with FitLot, a New Orleans non-profit that makes the areas, and other companies that could sponsor the Grant Park gym's cost. Though other Chicago parks have outdoor workout areas, the one Jinaki eyes for Grant Park would be much more robust.
"We're taking a lot of time thinking of something uniquely Chicago and something iconic," Jinaki said Wednesday.
The proposed area has yet to be designed, or approved by the Chicago Park District. As in December, some present at Wednesday's meeting expressed concerns about whether a fitness area is the best use for the site, and the idea's perceived lack of public input. But Bob O'Neill, the conservancy's president, said the fitness area fit the park's mission of being "innovative" and having a public purpose.
A Chicago Park District spokeswoman did not return a message late Wednesday.
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