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City Council OKs $1 Million in TIF Dollars for Clark Park’s Controversial Boat House

By Patty Wetli | Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Clark Park Advisory Council has asked for improvements, like an actual volleyball court. They're getting a $7.4 million boat house. Credit: Patty Wetli

Clark Park, 3400 N. Rockwell St., is getting its boat house, whether park users want one or not. During Wednesday’s session, City Council approved $1 million in TIF dollars toward construction of the boat house along the Chicago River, with the money being funneled to the Park District via the Department of Housing and Economic Development.

The Clark Park Advisory Council (CPAC) has been outspoken in its opposition to the boat house plan, mainly because it’s so large. At 20,000 square feet, the building would eat up two acres of Clark Park’s already scarce green space: The park’s 15 acres include seven acres of woods – home to a BMX bike park – and another acre claimed by the Cubs and Park District for a baseball field. Throw in the boat house, and Clark Park would have precious little room left over for volleyball, soccer, dog walkers, a playground and native gardens.

CPAC originally was informed last October that the project would consist of two smaller buildings totaling 4,000 square feet, then the Park District pulled a super-sized switcheroo in February. When RVJ asked the Park District to address CPAC’s concerns about the boat house’s size, a spokesperson responded: “The boat house is still two structures, as it was in October.”

Yes, and no. Yes, it’s two structures; no it’s not 4,000 square feet.

The TIF ordinance describes the project as: “approximately 20,000 SF rowing, training and boat storage facility. The building consists of a 2 story mechanically heated and cooled building, a 1 story tempered boat storage building and a floating boat launch dock in the Chicago River.” (The Chicago Park District did not respond to RVJ‘s request for a rendering of the boat house design as of press time.)

According to the ordinance, the two-story building will contain space for a rowing tank, 36 rowing machines, restrooms, showers and a community room, all of which seems to bear out CPAC’s claim that the facility will mainly serve members of rowing clubs and teams, not area residents. The one-story building provides boat storage and will house a kayak and canoe vendor, along with restrooms.

Total price tag for the boat house: $7.4 million. In addition to the TIF funds, the Park District is kicking in $2.45 million and private donors (listed cryptically in the ordinance as “Chicago One”) are chipping in $3.95 million.

Meanwhile, CPAC has struggled for nearly 20 years to squeeze resources from the Park District for basic amenities. “It’s an insult to the community,” Bill Donahue, CPAC president, told RVJ back in April. “We’re doing all this work as citizens and they can, at the snap of a finger, get a boat house.”

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