AVONDALE — Avondale Park and its 91-year-old field house are getting a makeover to the tune of $2.86 million.
The renovation project, championed by Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), is being funded entirely with Tax Increment Finance dollars from the Kennedy/Kimball TIF district. The TIF allocation was approved by City Council last week.
Neighbors said they are thrilled the project is moving forward. The 1.24-acre park along the Kennedy Expressway hasn’t seen any upgrades in years. The field house at 3516 W. School St. has fallen into disrepair since it was built in 1929, thanks to decades of deferred maintenance.
“This is the open space for a lot of kids that they can get to safely, so it’s really important to invest in it,” said Rodger Cooley, a longtime neighbor and park advocate.
Cooley is a former member of the park advisory council and has lived near the park since 2002. He said the renovation project has been in the works since at least 2011, when a shooting at the park rocked the neighborhood.
Two young girls, ages 7 and 2, were shot and wounded while playing on the playground.
“Two guys popped out of a van. The park was packed with people. A couple of kids were hit. It caused a lot of trauma in the neighborhood,” Cooley said.
Cooley said the shooting brought more attention to the park, which ultimately led to conversations about making improvements to the park’s deteriorating infrastructure.
Over the last several years, neighbors and local officials have gone back and forth to make the renovation project a reality. Cooley said ultimately the park had to be drawn into the Kimball/Kennedy TIF district to receive the funding.
TIF districts capture all growth in the property tax base in a designated area for a set period of time, usually 23 years or more, and divert it into a special fund for projects designed to spur redevelopment and eradicate blight.
“This use of TIF dollars is in line with TIF reform measures I have long advocated for: measures that ensure public dollars are used for the benefit of our neighborhoods, not big corporations,” Ramirez-Rosa said while while announcing City Council’s approval of the TIF allocation last week.
Ramirez-Rosa couldn’t say exactly when construction will begin, but he expects to have an update after he meets with park district officials in July.
The field house will get tuckpointing repairs, a new roof and restored windows. The project will also make the field house compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The park will get new landscaping and garden boxes, as well as new shade structures for the outdoor pool, among other upgrades.
When it was built in 1929, the park spanned 4 or 5 acres, but a huge chunk of it was lost when the Kennedy Expressway was built in the 1950s.
Despite its “strange location” nestled next to the expressway, Avondale Park has become a community fixture known for its tiny outdoor pool and stellar gymnastics program, Cooley said.
The gymnasts who are a part of the park’s gymnastics program compete at the state level, Cooley said.
Cooley said the much-needed renovation project will allow the “hidden gem” to thrive as the neighborhood continues to change around it.
The project “helps play a role in the diversity of opportunities in the community, especially as Avondale is moving through the stages of gentrification,” he said.
“In the last few years, real estate prices have gone up. … it creates a space for people that’s welcoming for a lot of different folks, provides after-school care, pre-K care that’s for families at affordable rates. It’s a safe place.”
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