LINCOLN SQUARE — The Park District killed a nearly two-year effort to install lights for night baseball and softball games at Welles Park after neighbors opposed the change.
The Welles Park Parents Association floated its initial pitch to add LED lights at Welles Park to allow nighttime games for its youth league teams in 2021. The group planned to foot the entire bill for the lights and installation.
At the time, organizers said the league had a yearly waitlist with dozens of prospective players. They hoped adding lights and night games to the schedule would give the league more field time and help leaders enroll nearly 300 more players.
But some neighbors feared the plan would exacerbate traffic, noise and light pollution, forcing the Park District to postpone its decision.
Park District CEO Rosa Escareño rejected the association’s proposal this month after “multiple stakeholder and community discussions” found significant opposition to the plan, she wrote in a letter to the association.
“We understand this decision may be disappointing to the leadership, parents and kids of your organization who have long advocated for this proposal,“ Escareño wrote. “Although we cannot move forward with your proposed lighting improvements at Welles Park, the Park District is committed to working with you to explore other solutions to meet your goal of expanding programming opportunities for baseball and softball.”
A Park District spokesperson could not immediately answer questions about what other options are available to expand the league and play more games.
Association leaders said they were pleased with the Park District’s support for adding more playing opportunities for local kids. They also blasted Ald. Matt Martin (47th).
“We look forward to a continued strong partnership with the Park District. We are, however, disappointed by the lack of leadership shown by the Alderman during the process,” the statement said.
When the proposal was indefinitely shelved, park advisory members said they were waiting for more information from Martin and the Park District before voting on the lights. Martin said he was waiting for the advisory council and other neighbors to give their input. The Park District was waiting on the parents group to submit updated plans and on Martin to weigh in, officials said at the time.
Martin’s office, however, said this was the Park District’s call.
“We continue to appreciate the important work that [the association] does in the 47th Ward and beyond, and stand ready to collaborate with them and the Park District to continue supporting their programming moving forward,” said Laura Reimers, Martin’s Chief of Staff.
Reimers said Martin’s office spent two years working with the Park District to host community meetings and surveys as part of the review process. More than 1,000 neighbors weighed in, she said.
“Ultimately, the Park District decided that it would not support this proposal, and instead would work with [the association] to find other opportunities to expand baseball and softball programming at other locations,” Reimers said. “Our Office respects the Park District’s decision, and is grateful for everyone in the community who shared their opinions on the matter.”
The Welles Park parents’ group was founded in 1990 and serves more than 1,600 kids and teens ages 5-19. It hosts games at a half-dozen North Side parks.
The association’s original plan was to install lights at four of the park’s five diamonds in hopes they could be ready to use by spring 2022.
Amid opposition from neighbors, the association also scaled back their plan for the lights to only two diamonds at Welles Park.
Separate from that, thousands of beetle grubs infested the park in October 2021. The grubs chewed up about a third of the popular park’s 15 acres, laying waste to the grass between five baseball diamonds on the the eastern half of the park.
The subsequent treatments to remove the infestation and grow grass meant baseball and softball teams were unable to use the diamonds at Welles Park for the 2022 season.
Officials said the baseball fields will be back in use this year.
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