UPTOWN — A $13 million renovation of the historic Clarendon Park Community Center in Uptown is moving forward after the City Council voted Wednesday to fund the project with $7 million in tax incremental financing funds.
The community center, 4501 N. Clarendon Ave., will see a massive overhaul that will refurbish the 1916 structure and improve community amenities. The gym will be renovated, the lobby rebuilt and there will be a new outdoor gathering space.
Renovations at the park field house are badly needed, and the structure’s deteriorating condition led it to be included in a 2015 list of the city’s “most threatened” historic buildings. The renovations are now moving forward — thanks to the help of a controversial tax increment financing, or TIF, district.
The City Council on Wednesday approved the use of $6.9 million from the Montrose/Clarendon TIF for the project.
That TIF was created in 2010 to spur development of the former Cuneo Memorial Hospital site at Clarendon and Montrose avenues. In 2016, the city approved using $15.8 million from the TIF for a luxury apartment development known as 811 Uptown.
Public financing of the apartment complex project was controversial. It produced a 27-13 vote in the City Council and a lawsuit from a neighborhood group that said it was illegally shut out of publicly commenting on the project.
Now the city has approved spending nearly $7 million from the TIF district on the community center. The developer of 811 Uptown is contributing $4.6 million to the project as part of its original development deal approved by the city. The Chicago Park District will contribute $1.5 million.
“I took many political hits to make this happen, but the kids in the Uptown neighborhood deserve this, especially when the nearby field houses in higher wealth neighborhoods were miles better,” Ald. James Cappleman (46th), who supported the apartment development, wrote on Facebook. “This win feels good.”
The renovation will involve two phases. The first stage includes structural repairs and efforts to make the building accessible for people using wheelchairs. There also will be roof repairs, construction of a vestibule for an elevator, a new bathroom off the building’s lobby and new flooring for the gym.
The second phase will include remodeling the community center’s lobby, dance studio, performance space and club rooms, according to a planning document presented to the public. An outdoor plaza near Clarendon Avenue will also be constructed.
It is not known when work will begin. A spokesperson for the Chicago Park District did not return a request for comment.
The community center will remain open during the construction, said Tressa Feher, Cappleman’s chief of staff. The community center’s model train display, which has been a staple of the building for more than 50 years, will not be disturbed during the work.
After assessing the building’s needs in 2016, the park district held a community meeting in 2018 to discuss publicly plans to refurbish the structure or build a new community center. Uptown neighbors overwhelming supported renovating the existing building. In 2019, the city and neighbors settled on a limited remodel of the community center.
When it debuted to the public in 1916, Clarendon Park fronted the lake, and the field house served thousands of swimmers and beachgoers. In the late 1930s, the park district expanded Lincoln Park to Foster, eliminating Clarendon’s lake frontage. The city then converted the facility into a community center.
In 1972, a major renovation project led to the building’s signature towers being removed, which eventually led to water infiltration and roof issues.
Subscribe to Block Club Chicago. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods.