Clark Park Loses Battle Over Boathouse, May Still Come out a Winner

By Patty Wetli | Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Construction fencing at Clark Park indicates boat house a done deal. Credit: Patty Wetli

Bill Donahue, president of the Clark Park Advisory Council, knows a done deal when he sees one. It looks like a giant chain link construction fence, proof positive that the city is in no way rethinking its plans to locate a super-sized boat house along the Chicago River at Clark Park (3400 N. Rockwell), despite CPAC’s protestations that the proposed 20,000-square-foot structure will siphon off precious green space for use by a narrow constituency, while doing little to address the everyday needs of the people who frequent the park.

The fencing, which appeared three weeks ago along with earth-moving equipment, walls off precisely the wide swath of land that CPAC feared. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that between the boat house and a high school baseball stadium also slated for construction on the park’s land, Clark Park is now on the Park District’s radar; improvements that CPAC has been requesting for nearly two decades may finally come to fruition. Indeed, a rusted hulk of a football tackling sled, as much a fixture in Clark Park as swing sets are elsewhere, was recently removed after countless pleas.

Hence the attendance of Bob Foster, representing the Park District’s department of planning and development, at last week’s monthly CPAC meeting. Foster was on hand to begin the process of creating a “framework plan” for Clark Park.

While CPAC crafted a strategic plan for the park some years ago, the official framework signals a more formalized commitment from the Park District to partner on a long-term vision for Clark Park and provides a way to prioritize improvements. The document will list existing conditions — lack of a fieldhouse, a noxious Metropolitan Water Reclamation District vent, landscape that resembles something out of Prometheus –and then set broad goals (e.g., “enhance post-apocalyptic landscape”) as well as make site-specific major recommendations (e.g., “get rid of belching vent”).

High on CPAC’s wishlist: a playground, native gardens along the river and a turf soccer field. Parking is also a significant concern, particularly once the boat house and baseball stadium begin attracting additional visitors, even though CPS has offered up Lane Tech’s lot. Foster suggested that CDOT could conduct a parking study and that landscape architects could draw up plans for gardens, which CPAC would like to model after Winnemac Park’s.

Although $7 million materialized to finance the boat house, Foster hedged when asked if funds were available to make the framework’s various elements a reality. “Not for everything,” he replied.

In fact, the boat house construction schedule is hampering CPAC’s efforts to raise money for other park enhancements. The Council’s bread-and-butter fundraiser is a twilight canoe trip along the Chicago River, held annually in September. With access to the river currently blocked, CPAC is scrambling to come up with an alternative.

Still Donahue remains cautiously optimistic that the Council’s voice has been heard and that the boat house won’t be the city’s final investment in Clark Park. “What we feel good about is that the Park District is saying they want to make a tangible commitment,” he said.

Kerry Wood Cubs Park at Richard Clark Park

Mike Lufrano, executive vice president of community affairs for the Chicago Cubs, also presented at CPAC’s recent meeting to supply details about the forthcoming baseball stadium, including its unwieldy name. (The stadium will be situated along the northeastern corner of the park, adjacent to Prometheus-ville and sandwiched between Lane Tech and DeVry.)

Yes, this is "park" land. CPAC would like to turn this wasteland into a soccer field. Credit: Patty Wetli

Construction on the ball field, which the Cubs are overseeing, is scheduled to begin in early October, dependent on permit approval; once completed, the Cubs will hand over operation to the Park District. CPS will have access to the stadium for high school baseball games held after school, while the Park District will provide programming during mornings and weekends.

The design calls for a seating capacity of roughly 1,300, a turf field, press box, scoreboard and low brick wall that mimics Wrigley Field, as will the paint colors. A metal roof will fully overhang the grandstand, providing shade and shelter. At 400 feet to center field, the park nearly boasts major league dimensions. And yes, there will be lights, though Lufrano was uncertain how many night games would be played.

“It’s not a lot of construction,” the project’s architect, Steve Weiss, explained to CPAC, estimating six months maximum to complete the stadium. “The turf is the biggest cost.”

The project is budgeted at $5 million; Lufrano promised that the Cubs would put any savings toward building a soccer (or lacrosse/multi-purpose) field in Clark Park’s neighboring concrete wasteland. CPAC will undoubtedly root, root, root for the Cubbies to make that happen.

The next meeting of the Clark Park Advisory Council is set for July 17, 7 p.m., at Revere Park, 2509 W. Irving Park Road.



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