Turf field at Wilson Park ruled out as it would eliminate too much green space, trees; Alderman Gardiner says other improvements to be considered
by BRIAN NADIG
A proposal to install an artificial sports field at Wilson Park, 4630 N. Milwaukee Ave., is not moving forward because it would require the removal of too many trees and the elimination of a large amount of the overall greenery at the 8-acre park, according to Alderman James Gardiner (45th).
Gardiner made the announcement at the start of a June 29 virtual community meeting in which the turf proposal was going to be discussed. He added that his office also had received a lot of opposition to the proposal.
“Wilson is beloved for its green space,” a resident said at the meeting. She added that the existing field is a great play space for families with young children.
A recent online survey for members of the Jefferson Park Neighborhood Association and Jefferson Park Forward had 99 responses, and only one respondent voiced support for a turf field at Wilson. The other 98 respondents said that they support leaving the grass field in place.
The existing athletic field, which includes two baseball diamonds, is located behind the fieldhouse, and portions of the field are separated by alleys from neighboring homes and residential garages.
“The grass and field is like an extension of people’s yards. What will happen to the trees? If these are removed this would be a horrible situation for the neighborhood. Will this create more flooding risk in the neighborhood even if drainage (for the field) is added? All in all sounds like a bad idea and a waste of tax dollars. Let’s improve existing facilities,” one survey respondent wrote.
In May a turf proposal was made for Jefferson Memorial Park, 4822 N. Long Ave., but residents raised similar concerns, arguing that the proposed artificial field would eliminate too much of the park’s green space. A field project at Jefferson Park would have cost about $3 million.
Instead the Jefferson Memorial Park Advisory Council has been working with Gardiner and the Chicago Park District on possible other improvements at that park.
At the June 29 meeting, Gardiner said that while the turf proposal is off the table, he will be looking into spending TIF funds on several other improvements at Wilson, including ADA accessibility, air-conditioning and new windows for the fieldhouse, and repaved pathways.
Gardiner said that one of the reasons that a turf field, which would have included a drainage system, was under consideration for Wilson was to give residents more “accessibility” to the field given that it can be unusable for several days after rain storms. He added that drainage improvement for the existing grass field may be an option.
Recommendations from residents at the meeting included a dog run at the park, better lighting, new benches, outdoor exercise stations, lights for the tennis courts and more native plantings. Others said that the TIF funds should be used to modernize traffic signals at the Milwaukee-Lawrence and Lawrence-Central intersections and for other roadway improvements in the area.
“I appreciate your feedback more than you will ever know,” Gardiner said at the end of the meeting. “By sharing ideas … we can only begin to address a lot of the needs (of the community).”
Several of the suggested improvements for Wilson are being considered for Jefferson.
The Jefferson Park TIF District expires at the end of 2022, and additional funds from the Portage Park TIF District may be transferred to the Jefferson Park district to help pay for park improvements. Under some circumstances, funds can be transferred among neighboring TIF districts.
In response to a question at the meeting, Gardiner said that that the TIF funds cannot be used at the Austin Foster Park, 6020 W. Foster Ave., because it is not located in a TIF district. Both Jefferson and Wilson parks are located in the Jefferson Park TIF District.
As a side note, an Eagle Scout recently made improvements to Wilson’s outdoor basketball court, including the repainting of lines.
In addition, about $300,000 recently was spent to improve Wilson’s water feature, and pickleball lines were installed in the tennis courts, Gardiner said.
It also was reported that a baseball association has been helping to maintain Wilson’s field.