NEAR WEST SIDE — A new $25 million park field house and outdoor sports fields were recently completed on the University Village/Pilsen border, but some neighbors were stunned when they were told they can’t use the fields without paying.
The artificial turf fields and ComEd Recreation Center at Addams Park, 1434 S. Loomis St., were built to benefit the neighborhood’s residents, but some say the steep rental fees will keep people from using them.
Last week, after learning the new outdoor turf fields had recently opened at Addams Park, Kevin Tajimaroa and seven friends decided to play a game of soccer on the new outdoor turf field. But after an hour, an employee told them they had to leave because they didn’t have a rental permit to use the outdoor fields.
While the field wasn’t rented at the time, an employee said they couldn’t play unless they rented the space, Tajimaroa said. The price: $150 per hour.
As the group packed up to leave, the employee walked over to a family of three playing on the field and also asked them to leave, too, Tajimaroa said.
Tajimaroa, who grew up playing at the park and watched his father play in a Sunday soccer league, was shocked that families were now being told they had to pay to use a public amenity.
“We were under the assumption that since it was a public park that we would be able to use the outdoor fields,” Tajimaroa said.
Asked about the fees, Park District officials said fees to exclusively use park fields are common across the city. The Park District plans to dedicate field time for organized athletic programs at little-to-no cost to neighbors,” said Irene Tostado, a Park District spokeswoman.
While the recreational facility rental fee is standard for groups and leagues, if the space is not rented at the time, neighbors should be allowed to use the fields for free, Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) said.
“We will definitely work to correct it because that should not be the case,” Ervin said. “I will be looking into that because it should be treated like any other park facility in the park district where if it’s not being rented it can be utilized.”
The Addams Recreation Center, also known as the ComEd Recreation Center as listed on the Chicago Park District website , includes indoor and outdoor multi-use turf fields, an indoor track and hard court space. The 100,000-square-foot facility also includes community rooms, offices and storage space, according to the Park District.
A public-private plan to revamp the park was floated in 2015, DNAinfo reported. The Park District paid $5 million, Exelon Corp paid $3 million, Inner City Education Recreation Foundation paid $5 million and the Chicago Housing Authority paid the remaining fees, according to another DNAinfo report.
Two years ago, then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Ervin and disgraced former Ald. Danny Solis (25th) broke ground on the ComEd Recreational Center at Addams Park in August 2018.
At the time, Emanuel said the new facility was “necessary to support both students and residents on Chicago’s West Side.” It would be a “critical” investment that would help “strengthen the social fabric of this community and will benefit residents for generations to come,” he said.
Ald. Ervin said the new facility would create “much-needed opportunities for residents of all ages to stay safe and engaged in our West Side communities.”
Luca Serra, a spokesman for the ComEd Rec Center, said the field was $150 per hour permit fee for exclusive use. Serra and Park District officials did not answer questions on how rental fees would be used.
Facility manager William Ross said the ComEd Rec Center was “no different than any other park facility — when members of the community, organizations or teams rent the facility it needs to be respected. It is no different than softball, soccer or football leagues who for years have rented park fields to play their organized events.”
“When the field is not rented we are organizing youth and adult activities. It is important that our instructors give the community the best experience when it comes to the many activities we host at ComEd,” he said.
He welcomed neighbors to reach out to learn more about “open time.”
Tajimaroa launched a petition calling for the Park District to make the field free to use. To date, its garnered more than 400 signatures.
“When you set the price at $150 you are closing off the facility to many families who can’t afford to pay that steep price,” the neighbor said.
Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) said he was in “full support” of the petition and is especially concerned about how the park was funded.
Like the parking meter deal, Sigcho-Lopez said “privatization schemes have not served the city of Chicago well…They extract wealth and public benefits from Chicagoans for private interest.”
Tajimaroa said the facility was another example of gentrification that Pilsen and other parts of the Near West Side have been experiencing.
“Who are you attracting when you build these facilities and charge those prices? You aren’t really attracting people who are locally there,” he said.
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