The Chicago Cubs are getting a new stadium. In Clark Park. For high school students. Which, considering the team’s current rebuilding effort, might be Theo Epstein’s best shot at recruiting young talent.
On Wednesday, City Council approved $1.25 million in TIF funds toward the construction of the city’s first ballpark to meet Illinois High School Association (IHSA) standards. The remainder of the project’s $5.2 million budget will come from: Chicago Cubs Charities, $1 million; Kerry Wood Family Foundation, $1 million; Chicago Public Schools, $750,000; Turner Construction, $700,000; Chicago Park District, $500,000.
The Cubs will oversee construction of the stadium and then hand over operation to the Park District, according to Nelson Chueng of the city’s Department of Housing and Economic Development. Usage is expected to be split between Chicago Public Schools, 25 percent of the time, and the Park District, 75 percent.
“Our [high school] kids always have to play home games away,” said Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th), who helped push through the plan. “One of the things we’ve been trying to do since Day 1 is to get the Cubs done this year, to stop taking two steps forward and three steps back.”
The deal has been gestating for years, dating back to Pawar’s predecessor, Ald. Eugene Schulter. Given the number of parties involved, which also includes Lane Tech and DeVry University, reaching consensus was a challenge. “I think part of the problem was there was never a coordinated conversation,” Pawar said.
Also an issue in the delay: The initial scope of the project and placement of the stadium met with opposition from the Clark Park Advisory Council. The park, situated at 3400 N. Rockwell, occupies less than 15 acres, much of which is woodland. The original proposal called for four ball diamonds that would consume a vast amount of the park’s open space, which is heavily used for soccer, volleyball and other recreational activities.
CPAC countered with a plan, which was eventually accepted, that would place the ballpark at the edge of DeVry’s parking lot. “The Park District was like a deer in headlights. ‘Oh yeah, that’s a great idea,’” said Bill Donahue, president of CPAC. “We gave them the plan, they won’t deny that. They didn’t think of that, we did.”
Having spent five years hashing out the stadium’s details, it’s now deja vu all over again for CPAC, which is fighting an “oversized behemoth” of a boathouse that will further encroach upon the park’s limited green space. Between the two developments, CPAC worries that Clark Park has become the default location for pet projects that can’t find a home elsewhere.
“Millions of dollars are coming in from special interests, but they’re not developing the rest of the park,” said Donahue.
CPAC’s comprehensive vision for the park includes improvements based on the community’s usage: a playground, expanded walkways, and soccer and volleyball fields. Ald. Pawar vowed that the stadium is all part of a larger plan for Clark Park.
“I’ve made a commitment to them,” he said. “We’ll use TIF to turn the park into a recreational campus. We’re taking a riverfront space that’s underutilized and getting people to start looking at the river as a recreation option.” That means playground, soccer field, bike path, gardens.
“I’m all in on this,” said Pawar. “I think everyone’s on board at this point.”