The drive from Beverly to the Chicago Park District’s Calumet Park, at 95th Street and the lake, has become second nature for local resident Connie Grayson, who drives her twin 10-year-old daughters to gymnastics practice there five days a week.
However, in a couple of years, that commute may be considerably shorter.
At a press conference on Oct. 12, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Chicago Park District (CPD) Superintendent Mike Kelly and 19th Ward Ald. Matt O’Shea announced that property on the southeast corner of 115th Street and Western Avenue will be redeveloped to offer local athletes a venue for gymnastics—and ice skating—in the Beverly/Morgan Park neighborhood.
The Morgan Park Sports Center will be the first and only gymnastics center and indoor ice skating rink in the city of Chicago, Emanuel said, and it couldn’t be built in a better spot.
“If I heard once I heard a thousand times about the need for an ice skating rink and for a gymnastics center here on the Southwest Side in the Beverly community,” Emanuel said. “It should be where people have been asking for this. … I think after 30 years we can have a development that actually represents the community. So this dream deferred is a dream delivered.”
According to Emanuel, the sports center has been on O’Shea’s wish list since before the alderman was sworn into office in 2011. The center will be built on property that has been vacant since 1981, Emanuel said. The property on the northeast corner of 115th and Western, which will accommodate the center’s parking lot, has been vacant since 1985.
O’Shea concurred with the mayor’s remarks, telling the hundreds of people in attendance that developing the two vacant lots has been one of his administration’s top priorities.
“Right now, we are standing on more than two-and-a-half acres of blight,” O’Shea said. “What’s worse, we’ve lived with this problem since the Reagan administration. Today, thanks to the Emanuel administration, we’re finally going to do something about it.”
According to a news release from the mayor’s press office, construction of the 55,000-square-foot complex is slated to begin in the summer of 2014 with a target completion date of summer 2015.
The indoor ice rink will accommodate year-round competitive hockey, figure and recreational skating with a National Hockey League regulation-sized rink measuring 85 feet by 200 feet. Currently, the park district operates one other indoor ice skating rink at McFettridge Park, 3843 N. California Ave.
The gymnastics side of the complex, featuring a large pit area and in-ground trampolines, will be equipped to host training opportunities and USA Gymnastics competitions for youths and adults. The park district currently operates eight other gymnastics centers in the city.
Other features of the complex include a concessions area, meeting and party rooms, viewing areas to accommodate 1,200 spectators, offices and team locker rooms.
According to O’Shea, the center will be a state-of-the-art facility that will offer local residents the type of “recreational development that matches the superior caliber of our residential housing stock.”
In addition, O’Shea said, the center is a public investment that creates sorely needed jobs and will serve as a major economic engine for the region.
According to O’Shea, the concept of a sports complex at the corner of 115th and Western has been in the works since the days of former aldermen Mike Sheahan and Ginger Rugai. In recent years, O’Shea had proposed installing a “passive greenspace” on the south lot that could be used for lacrosse, soccer and other youth activities until funding was available to build the facility.
The sports center is expected to cost approximately $12 million, O’Shea said, using approximately $8 million in combined monies from the state capital bill, the park district and existing tax increment financing (TIF) funds. The remaining $4 million, he said, will be financed, and future TIF funds will be used to pay off those loans.
With preliminary financing in place, the city’s next order of business will be closing 115th Street to through traffic from Western Avenue—a caveat of the development from the beginning, O’Shea said. Creating a cul-de-sac on 115th Street east of the parking lot, officials said, will allow patrons to access the sports center from the parking lot without crossing a street laden with heavy traffic.
O’Shea said he conducted a survey this summer in which 60 percent of the respondents said they would be in favor of closing the street to help spur redevelopment of the corner.
He said he has also held several community forums to discuss the prospect of a street closure as a means of wooing potential developers to the site. At those meetings, emotions ran high from both proponents and opponents of the proposed street closure. Many local residents, especially those living on 115th Street, said they would welcome a halt to the heavy traffic that uses 115th Street as a thoroughfare to and from Interstate 57, the 115th Street Metra station and several cemeteries in Morgan Park and Mt. Greenwood.
Increased traffic on neighboring streets, delayed response for emergency vehicles and inconvenience caused from the lack of accessibility to 115th Street were among the concerns voiced by opponents of the street closure.
The Southwest Morgan Park Civic Association will host a community meeting on Thursday, Oct. 24, at 7 p.m., to provide an update on the status of the proposed development and street closure. The meeting will be held at St. Walter Church, 11722 S. Oakley Ave.
The press conference on Oct. 11 drew members of the Calumet Park gymnastics team and hockey teams from Mt. Carmel, Marist, Br. Rice and St. Rita high schools, young athletes who will most likely be future users of the facility. Members of the St. Jude Knights youth hockey program, as well as students from St. Walter and St. Cajetan elementary schools, were also in attendance.
Following the press conference, Emanuel, O’Shea and Kelly headed to another site in the neighborhood that is being redeveloped.
The Ridge Park playground, 9625 S. Longwood Dr., is one of the first 50 of 300 aging playgrounds citywide selected for Chicago Plays, a citywide playground renovation program, Kelly said. The outdated playground equipment was recently removed from the park, Kelly said, and new equipment and soft surface material will be installed in the coming weeks.
In five years, every playground in the city of Chicago will be renovated, Emanuel said.
“When we are finished, every child, regardless of where they live in the city, will be within a 10-minute walk of a world-class park or playground,” Emanuel said. “Our children, our communities, our families come first in the city of Chicago.”