The vacant lot at 4008 W. Madison St., the site of a roller rink development in the West Garfield Park neighborhood on April 29, 2021. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

WEST GARFIELD PARK — An outdoor community plaza and roller rink will soon be erected along a troubled West Side corridor. The investment is an effort to work with neighborhood groups to address multiple quality-of-life issues challenging the area.

Construction on the roller rink is set to begin in July at a vacant lot at the corner of Madison Street and Pulaski Road in West Garfield Park. The location is at the center of the neighborhood’s main business district, but the area has become a hotspot for drug activity and crime.

The plan to build the roller rink was approved Friday by City Council. Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the project grew from “an effort of nine months of community engagement” with neighborhood partners.

The community plaza and roller rink was planned in partnership with the Garfield Park Rite to Wellness Collaborative, a coalition of several neighborhood groups dedicated to building a culture of physical, mental, spiritual and economic wellness in the neighborhood.

The investment can help tackle the root causes of violence in the area, said Garfield Park Rite to Wellness Collaborative Director TJ Crawford. The roller rink and plaza will also bring a powerful community presence from neighborhood groups, violence prevention organizations and police that can help keep the area safe, he said.

“We know the type of investment that is needed. We know the presence that is needed. We know the community involvement and leadership that is required for us to help the community evolve and turn around and recover,” Crawford said.

The roller rink will be funded with the help of $1.5 million in tax revenue from the sale of recreational cannabis. A portion of state tax revenues from the sale of weed is set aside to community projects. 

In addition to the roller rink, the plaza will host activities and programs for young people, like chess, pickleball, dance, fitness classes and volleyball, organizers said. The plaza will also host events like farmers markets, movie nights, art workshops and open mics. The Park District will provide equipment like roller skates free of charge.

Officials said the site was selected due to a “high number of shootings” over the past three years, and cited 120 arrests for cannabis offenses January 2018-April 2021.

The crime makes some balk at the idea of a roller rink, said Siri Hibbler, president of the Garfield Park Chamber of Commerce.

“It’s a very serious hot spot,” Hibbler said. ‘”How is putting our kids right in the middle of the shootings, right in the middle of the drug dealing, going to improve public safety?”

Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) agreed the plaza will be built in a “very challenged area” of the Madison and Pulaski business corridor, as there are “no less” than five to 10 people selling illegal weed in the area on any given day.

But the additional investment from the city will be a deterrent that will prevent some of the crime that happens there already, Ervin said.

“This use for active recreation, not only for our young people but also our seniors and other members of the community, would serve as a deterrent for some of the criminal activity that is taking place along the corridor,” he said. 

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