LINCOLN SQUARE — Neighbors and the local alderman are concerned a long-awaited plan to rehab the Welles Park horseshoe pits and add pickleball courts is stalling as time to use critical funding for the project runs out.
Lincoln Square and North Center pickleballers for years have asked park officials to build them courts at Welles Park near the horseshoe pits, according to the Welles Park Advisory Council.
“We want to protect and preserve the history of the horseshoe pits while also making some additional space for pickleball,” council President Aaron Durnbaugh said.
Neighbors voted in Ald. Matt Martin’s (47th) 2022 participatory budget process to set aside discretionary funding to convert the current 10 horseshoe pits at Welles Park into a mix of pickleball courts, a cornhole area and rehabbed horseshoe pits in addition to other park improvements.
Martin’s office set aside $110,000 from the Western Avenue North tax increment financing district last year to pay for the plan.
But more than a year later, the alderman, park council and Welles Park neighbors said they are still waiting on Park District officials to finalize designs and provide a timeline for construction, and they’re worried because the TIF funds are set to expire next year.
“We told the Park District last year: Give us a design. Give us a plan. And we’ve been waiting,” said Josh Mark, Martin’s chief of staff.
A spokesman for the Park District was not immediately available for comment.
The Welles Park council wrote in March that a “vibrant community” uses Welles’ horseshoe pits. They asked park officials to preserve and rehab them alongside other infrastructure improvements the park needs while adding the pickleball courts some neighbors want.
“We want to find way to make all these different activities sort of fit in,” Durnbaugh said.
“It’s basically just been a bunch of neighborhood guys who have been running this,” Brandt said. “These are the nicest horseshoe facilities in the city and, I think, the oldest.”
When the group heard about the potential for new pickleball courts, members reached out to Martin and the park council to let them know about 100 people regularly use the park for horseshoes, Brandt said.
There are pickleball courts at Horner Park and other nearby areas, but Brandt said he understands the appeal of having a closer option. He hopes the Park District comes up with a plan to equitably accommodate everyone’s hobbies, he said.
“To be cramming more of us into a tighter area, it wouldn’t be good. We can’t be crammed into a smaller space because of safety. We’re throwing chunks of iron,” he said.
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