Nike's Nat King Cole Park, Under Armour's Myering Park may be what the future holds for parks in our community. The subject has been discussed here before but semi privatizing the parks appear to be the future funding formula the Chicago Park District is depending on.
Last Thursday, I attended the preliminary budget hearings for the South Region of the Chicago Park District held at Avalon Park. The focus of this meeting was parks in district 6(far southeast) but they were still open to request for parks in the South Region. The meeting was presided over by Liz Millan, South Region manager and Anita Gilkey, District 6 manager. I was there representing two parks but the park germane to this conversation was Brown Park. Brown Memorial Park was established in memorial to Firefighter Sidney Brown who was the first African American Firefighter to lose his life in the line of duty. Over the year, the park has been neglected and because of no bathroom facilities it has become a "hangout" after hours to the dismay of the residents of the senior building adjacent to the park. I attended the meeting as a concerned taxpayer not as a park advisory council (PAC) member of any kind. A lesson learned from our previous Alderman, was to ask for everything at meetings like this. So I took that lesson to heart and asked for:
- A water park or similar structure with bathroom facilities
- A memorial garden in honor of our fallen public safety officers (Brown, Wortham, Bailey,Ankum)
- Resurfacing of the tennis courts.
This is in addition to the Playlot already planned for next year. I explained bringing Brown back on line will relieve the congestion off of Cole as well draw more families and seniors into the park. They made no promises but I'm hopeful that Brown will get more capital improvements.
A number of park's PAC members made presentations about their needs and wants. In the end Ms. Millan basically told the audience that the Park District Capital Improvements are focused on health and safety issues (leaking roofs, bathrooms, existing pool repair, etc). She strongly suggested that communities elect STRONG PAC's. It was also brought in response to several parks request for doggy parks, that the Chicago Park District does not fund those type of projects and they would have to seek outside funds for those projects. Ms. Millan mentioned that several parks have approached Petco and other dog related businesses to fund those projects. This is when she dropped the bomb that the Park District strongly considers partnerships. The park district will fund 1/3rd of partnership projects with their idea formula being 1/3 private, 1/3 local government and 1/3 park district. She spoke of menu money and that brought back up the idea Friends of the Park attempted to sell our community regarding the Thomas Wortham IV Playlot at Cole Park where they suggested that Alderman Lyle take out $100,000 to fund that $250,000 project and the Park District came with $0.
The bottom line here is that we as a community are going to have to decide what is more important. Are our children more important or fighting with the Park District to upgrade our parks? Yes, the Park District needs to do their fair share but should we not go above and beyond for our children. Yes, privatization has its drawbacks but I believe this is an issue that needs to be discussed as most of the parks and playlots in the 6th ward are in need of upgrades and renovations.