Is Mayor Rahm Emanuel throwing his still formidable political muscle behind a West Side alderman’s plan to build a Ravinia-style outdoor music venue in Douglas Park?
It sure looks that way, judging from the mayor’s meeting schedule.
On July 8, Emanuel held a private meeting in his City Hall office with Welz Kauffman, CEO of the Ravinia Festival in Highland Park, and Ald. Michael Scott Jr. (24th), according to copies of the mayor’s daily meeting schedule released to the Chicago Sun-Times in response to a Freedom of Information request.
“I would hope he would be supportive. It’s a very good idea. It has merit and would bring positive engagement in the community in North Lawndale. So I would assume that he thinks highly of the idea and wants to move it forward,” Scott said Wednesday.
“But it’s all conceptual. We’ll continue to work with the mayor’s office, with Ravinia, with partners in North Lawndale to make sure that something good comes about from the conversation,” he said.
The mayor’s office did nothing to discourage Scott from anticipating Emanuel’s support.“Both Mayor Emanuel and Ald. Scott strongly believe that Douglas Park has the potential to be a major cultural anchor for the West Side of Chicago,” mayoral spokesperson Grant Klinzman wrote in an emailed statement.“The mayor regularly has conversations with community members and stakeholders to help turn good ideas into realities, and any future proposal at Douglas Park would certainly include input from the community.”Kauffman could not be reached.
Scott said he would “love them to help” with the Ravinia project, but acknowledged that he has work to do when it comes to persuading Kauffman to sign on.
“He remains noncommittal about that because he does a tremendous job doing concerts out in Highland Park,” Scott said. “It would be a little bit counter-productive to do them in Douglas Park. However, we’re going to continue to engage him and see if we can get him to be a better cultural anchor.”
“Would that be him sending artists our way? Maybe so. Would it be bolstering what he’s already doing in North Lawndale? They do a piano, voice, guitar and violin,” he said. “Can they expand that program in Douglas Park a little more? Maybe so. These are ideas that are being thrown around. Hopefully, we’ll be able to come up with something that sticks that works well for North Lawndale, Douglas Park and Ravinia.”
Scott’s father was a confidant and all-purpose trouble-shooter for former Mayor Richard M. Daley who once served as president of the Chicago Park District board.
The younger Scott is a former Park District manager who has long dreamed of building a music venue in Douglas Park.
To control costs and guarantee maximum flexibility, Scott’s plan does not call for duplicating Ravinia’s signature, open-air music shell or permanent stage.
Rather, the alderman wants to lay down a concrete base on what is now a nature area at Ogden and Sacramento, bring in a temporary stage for concerts and turn a seldom-used, three-hole golf course into lawn seating and picnicking for up to 7,500 people.
The temporary stage would face the Douglas Park field house and lagoon. Riot Fest, which made the move to the West Side two years ago, would continue to be held at the south end of Douglas Park.
Scott said it’s “premature” to talk about a price tag for the project. But he’s certain it won’t cost “a ton” of money.
“I don’t want to change a lot of it into like a big bandshell. I want it to be multipurpose. I want it to be available for a high school graduation as well as a concert or dance series that wants to come out and use it,” he said.
“The goal is to create a cultural hub in North Lawndale. We have Douglas Park, that’s a cultural center. We have these music venues that are coming and frequenting the park. We have Cinespace [nearby]. So it’s a great place to bring arts and culture.”
But what about that three-hole golf course that the alderman’s father helped bring to Douglas Park, back when Tiger Woods was on his way to becoming a superstar?
“Everybody wanted to swing a golf club like Tiger Woods. But since the demise and his fall from grace, that has been sorely underutilized. And I don’t want that land that can be used for community programs to just sit there unused,” Scott said.
“Hopefully this idea will spark ideas around how to use it. Even if it is not that venue, it’ll be something different that’s better utilized by the community.”
Under Kauffman’s 16-year tenure, Ravinia has embarked on a “Reach*Teach*Play” agenda to expose students in budget-strapped inner-city school districts to music of all genres and cultivate musical talent in those schools.
Kauffman’s biography, posted on the Ravinia website, talks about the “free conservatory in Lawndale” that Ravinia runs “where students of all ages can receive applied music lessons as individuals and families.” The bio also talks about Kauffman’s work with the Chicago Public Schools to install “classroom programs, teacher training and artists residencies in grammar and high schools that did not have music programs of their own.”