NORTH LAWNDALE — An outdoor music venue could replace a nature area and three-hole golf course at Douglas Park under plans proposed by a North Lawndale alderman.
Calling the golf area "underutilized," Ald. Michael Scott Jr. (24th), a former Chicago Park District official, said the new music venue could attract thousands to Douglas Park, spurring the economy in North Lawndale. While he's dreamt of building a music venue at Douglas Park for more than 15 years, the new alderman said plans at this point are "very preliminary."
"Nothing is set in stone," Scott said. "I've talked to the Park District, and they are interested, but there is no funding for it yet."
Stephanie Lulay talks about plans for more music at Douglas Park.
Park District CEO Michael Kelly is "very interested in this plan," Park District spokeswoman Jessica Maxey-Faulkner confirmed last week.
At this point, the "Ravinia-esque" music venue at Douglas Park would not include a music shell or a permanent stage, Scott said Tuesday.
Instead, a concrete pad with electrical service would be built at the northeast corner of West Ogden Avenue and South Sacramento Drive — a ready-made area for pop-up concerts — and the park's golf area would be transformed into lawn seating where West Siders "could bring out a picnic blanket, picnic basket and enjoy the sights and sounds."
The staging area would be built on an existing nature area close to the intersection, and a three-hole golf course would be razed in part to allow for lawn seating for up to 7,500, he said. From the staging area, music would project back toward the Douglas Park field house and lagoon, Scott said, and away from neighbors.
Under Ald. Michael Scott's plans for a concert venue in Douglas Park, a concrete pad with electrical service would be built at the northeast corner of Ogden Avenue and Sacramento Drive. That site now houses a nature area. [dnainfo/Stephanie Lulay]
Under the plan, three-day punk rock fest Riot Fest would not be staged at the new site, Scott said, but the new music venue could be used as a single stage by the fest in the future.
Now in its second year at Douglas Park, Riot Fest will continue to be staged at the south end of the park. Officials now are working to adjust the fest's footprint — which includes four stages — "to minimize damage to the park," the alderman said.
"It is possible that Riot Fest could use [the new venue] for a main stage, but that's something they'd have to negotiate in the future," Scott said. "This is not something that we're building for them."
If successful, the new music venue would likely host the Chicago Westside Music Festival, a free music fest Scott founded, and community-driven events, including outdoor graduation ceremonies and church gospel celebrations. With headliner Bell Biv DeVoe, the West Side Music Fest attracted 10,000 people to the park last year.
Scott plans to host a community meeting on the proposed music venue soon, and if all goes well, the new outdoor music venue could open as early as next summer.
But first, the alderman will have to clear some park hurdles. Sara Heymann, a member of the Douglas Park Advisory Council, said a community meeting outlining the details of the plan is sorely needed.
"Parks are vital in communities with very little resources, and provide a place for kids to play," Heymann said. With Riot Fest displacing other park uses for a period, the proposed music venue "really needs to be vetted by the community as a smart use of our green space," she said.
Nature area to staging area
Under Scott's plan, the concrete area where pop-up stages could be erected would be built at the northeast corner of Ogden Avenue and Sacramento Drive in an area closest to the intersection. Today, the land is a nature area designated as a bird and butterfly sanctuary.
Eric Gyllenhaal, a member of the Chicago Ornithological Society who tracks bird populations at Douglas Park, said the golf course and sanctuary have successfully co-existed for many years. Even when buckthorn and other weedy plants have taken over parts of the sanctuary, birds still use the nature area all year round, he said.
"There's birds that use that part of the park every season. I saw 41 bird species in the sanctuary this morning," Gyllenhaal said. "The Douglas Park sanctuary provid[es] shelter and food to fuel them up for the next part of their journey. If that's gone, stop-over migrants might spend the day stressed out and underfed."
Scott said the existing nature area is an eyesore and hazard, and he will instead work to move the nature area to another part of the park.
"We've had coyotes in here, we've had a homeless contingent living here too," Scott said. "It's almost a detriment to let all of this green space go unutilized when it can be used for something else."
Under plans, a nature area with sprawling cattails that line the nearby lagoon would not be affected, Scott said, and the view of the Douglas Park field house would be unobstructed.
Junior golf course to lawn seating
Under Scott's plan, most of the three-hole junior golf course would become lawn seating for the new concert venue.
Every summer, First Tee of Greater Chicago uses the course to teach area kids the game of golf. This year, about 125 kids will participate in the free program, a partnership with the Park District, said Lisa Quinn, executive director of the group.
Quinn said she is hopeful two uses can coexist.
"We understand and respect what the community feels is best for the park, yet we feel strongly that our [program] provides a safe haven that teaches youth a lifelong sport that they would otherwise not have the opportunity to learn," Quinn said.
By comparison, about 500 children use the park's soccer fields daily, Scott said, and a golf course exists in Columbus Park in Austin.
"I don't want to take golf away" completely, Scott said. "Under my vision, there is still a place that kids can putt and drive."
First Tee financially invested in the installation of the golf course at Douglas Park about 15 years ago, Quinn said.
Ald. Michael Scott Jr. said the new music venue would not obstruct views of the Douglas Park field house and lagoon. [DNAinfo/Stephanie Lulay]
Attracting more music fests
Calling last year's Riot Fest a success, Scott hopes the new music venue can attract more music festivals to Douglas Park and build on an existing relationship the park has with Ravinia's music program.
"With Riot Fest, [we've shown] that we can have 25,000 people come to our neighborhood peacefully. The new venue will helps nearby businesses, and we want to invest that capital back into the neighborhood," Scott said. "If you start to have one, two, three really nice large festivals in this hub, things start to connect."
Ald. George Cardenas (12th), who represents the south end of Douglas Park, could not be reached Tuesday.
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