Park District headquarters in Brighton Park moves closer to reality
Putting the headquarters in the park-starved area was part of former Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to move key government buildings out of downtown and use those projects as catalysts to rebuild Chicago neighborhoods.
The Chicago Park District’s plan to build a new headquarters and recreational mecca in the park-starved Brighton Park neighborhood moved a step closer to reality Thursday, to the delight of indicted Ald. Edward Burke (14th).
The City Council’s Transportation Committee agreed to vacate 19,195 square feet of unimproved portions of South Campbell Avenue just south of 48th Street, along with an adjacent alley, at no cost to the Park District.
Thursday’s vote was one of the final steps necessary before ground can be broken on a Southwest Side project announced more than two years ago.
It’s part of former Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s second-term plan to move key government buildings out of downtown and use those projects as catalysts to rebuild long-neglected Chicago neighborhoods.
The 17-acre Park District project on a former industrial site at 48th Street and Western Avenue certainly fits that description.
Brighton Park was chosen for the marquee project from 20 possible sites because of its access to mass transit and because it is one of the top-five “park-deficient” communities in Chicago.
In addition to 88,000 square feet of office space, the project will include a new park and field house with a teen center, a pair of fitness centers and a basketball court.
The outdoor area includes two artificial turf fields for soccer and football and a great lawn that can be used for farmers markets, movies and outdoor theater productions, according to Kate Duncan, an attorney representing the Park District.
Three recreational areas are planned for children: a playground, a spray pool and a nature play area. The project will also include a “natural landscape of meadow and grasses” with walking paths that “extend through the center of the building, where there is an internal courtyard,” Duncan said.
“The Park District looked at multiple locations for its new headquarters and selected this site for a number of reasons, including the significant transformative value this new headquarters will bring to the Brighton Park community, which is a community area in great need of open space,” Duncan told aldermen.
The project is expected to create 350 construction jobs, with half of all “total construction work-hours” going to city residents. Companies owned by minorities will receive 26% of the contracts; those owned by women, 6%.
Burke hailed the project for its “remarkably progressive approach to administering the affairs of the Park District.”
“The site was … an abandoned manufacturing zone property and has been fallow and vacant and an eyesore for many years now. … So the decision by the Park District to utilize the site for this good cause is welcomed by the people of the neighborhood and should be a boon to the entire region. … The sooner this gets underway the better the neighborhood will be.”
The Park District sold its headquartersat 541 N. Fairbanks Court to Northwestern Memorial Hospitalfor $22.5 million in 2015 but negotiated a rent-free lease to stay for a while. That lease expired in April 2018. The district has been paying rent ever since.
Emanuel announced the decision to move the headquarters from downtown to Brighton Park in 2018. A few weeks later, the Park District board agreed to purchase the former industrial site for $8.65 million.
Park District Superintendent Mike Kelly has yet to put a price tag on the new headquarters and recreational space. He has said he’s still working to secure the funding.