Despite Prior Objections, Riverfront Developments On Track

By Sam Charles | Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Clark Park Boathouse, scheduled to be completed in 2014, will be a 20,000 square foot facility aimed at increasing recreation use of the Chicago River. Screenshot from 47th Ward newsletter.

Within the next two years, despite community opposition, two additions to the Chicago Riverfront near Roscoe Village will be completed with the hope of garnering more attention for the body of water so frequently subjected to playing second fiddle to Lake Michigan.

The Clark Park Boathouse and Kerry Wood Cubs Field, scheduled to complete construction in 2014 and, weather permitting, Spring 2013, respectively, are seeking to add a new, more engaged level of interaction to the immediate area.

Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) said the plans to develop the waterfront will help catalyze the area’s attractiveness.

“The mayor has said over and over again ‘When you think of Chicago, you think of the Lake,’ and the Lake is a great asset, but we also have the River,” Pawar said. “For a long time, we just haven’t used it as an asset to the City of Chicago, in terms of recreation.”

The Clark Park Boathouse, to be located at 3466 N. Rockwell St., was a source of contention earlier in the year when specifics about the size of the building were disputed between the Clark Park Advisory Council and the Chicago Park District. Ultimately, the CPD’s plans for a single, 20,000 square foot structure trumped the CPAC’s hope of two buildings, with 4,000 square feet each.

CPAC President Bill Donahue claims residents in the area by and large didn’t feel that such a large space for kayakers and rowers in the city was necessary at Clark Park.

“We registered our very strong objections to the boathouse,” Donahue said. “The size of it was initially misrepresented to us by the Park District and we feel that there wasn’t enough of a neighborhood mandate to use that much of the green space in the park for a kind of special use.

“No one in the advisory council has ever said they’re against rowing or against the sport or against kids participating in it, but we question the arguments that were given toward giving this oversized boathouse in the middle of a park that was trying to maintain as much greenspace as possible along the Chicago River,” Donahue added.

Ald. Pawar said that there is no ill will between the two sides now, and Donahue seconded that.

“We’ve extended our help and cooperation in whatever way we can,” Donahue said. “We just don’t feel like it was really reciprocated.”

CPAC was also involved in the planning of Kerry Wood Cubs Field. Donahue said that the Cubs brought a different kind of strategy to the planning stage, one of reciprocal understanding, which the CPD failed to do in regard to the boathouse.

“The experience we had with the baseball stadium, that experience was opposite of what occurred with the boathouse,” Donahue said. “The Chicago Cubs were very proactive, got the neighborhood and community involved and had a series of meetings and were very open and interested in our plan.”

Donahue said the Park District neglected to have any community meetings to get input from residents about what features the boathouse should have, adding that its planning seemed to be a foregone conclusion.

“That seems to have been decided behind closed doors,” he said.

The construction of Kerry Wood Cubs Field, to be located at 3457 N. Rockwell St., will be overseen by the Chicago Cubs and turned over to the the Park District for operation once completed. Usage will be split between Chicago Public Schools, 25 percent of the time, and the CPD, 75 percent of the time.

The projects were aided by the political momentum Pawar had upon his election, he said.

“Both of those projects were kind of like ‘All hands on deck’ and everyone working together” Pawar said. “And, quite frankly, it took a ton of political capital to get all these projects moving forward. Some of these projects have been talked about for a long time and we just wanted to make sure we’re getting them done.”

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