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Google partnership brings free wi-fi to two more park attractions

Patrons of two of Chicago’s most popular attractions — the Garfield Park Conservatory and South Shore Cultural Center — can now stay connected, thanks to a new partnership with Google that will provide free wireless service for park patrons.

Last year, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago Park District launched free wi-fi at five beaches: North Avenue, Osterman/Hollywood, Montrose, Foster and Rainbow.

Now, the freebie has been extended to the Garfield Park Conservatory and Garfield Park, including the tennis court, and artificial turf area. The South Shore Cultural Center also has free wireless service at its main building and beach house areas.

Parks can provide a rare respite from cell phones, Blackberrys and I-Pads that tether people to work.

But Emanuel argued Tuesday that the wi-fi service Google will help provide will “enhance the park experience, improve civic engagement” and bolster Chicago’s reputation as a “tech-savvy” city.

“This partnership with Google supports our efforts to boost wireless services to public places in neighborhood across the city,” the mayor was quoted as saying in a press release.

“Increasing access to high-speed internet in Chicago homes, businesses and public places like our parks helps our residents to stay better connected.”

Jim Lecinski, vice-president of customer solutions at Google Chicago, said the Internet “has the power to not only connect people around the world, but also bring together communities like Garfield Park and South Shore, which have so much to offer.”

The press release issued by the mayor’s office did not spell out details of the financial “partnership” between Google, the city and park district.

Last month, Emanuel launched a high-stakes competition for the right to provide low-cost, “gigabit-speed” Internet service to seven industrial corridors using city light poles, fiber, freight tunnels, sewers and building rooftops to reduce capital costs.

The “Chicago Broadband Challenge” that Emanuel touted nearly two years before began with a request-for-qualifications (RFQ) inviting companies to demonstrate their technological expertise and financial wherewithal to forge a high-speed internet partnership with the city.

Only after companies are pre-qualified will a request-for-proposals be issued (RFP).

Emanuel hopes to succeed where former Mayor Richard M. Daley failed by leveraging city assets and his plan to rebuild Chicago’s crumbling water and sewer system and by dividing the city into seven commercial corridors — down from his original plan for fifteen.

Competitors were required to select “at least one” of three “Preferred Innovation Zones” — River North, the Loop and West Loop — with “preference” given to those offering to serve all three.

The four remaining “innovation zones” were identified as” the University of Chicago and the U of C Medical Center, the Illinois Institute of Technology and Bronzeville, the Ravenswood Industrial Corridor and the Pullman Industrial Corridor.