OLD TOWN — The Park District has removed two of three pickleball courts at Old Town’s Bauler Park after months of drama between players and parents who want the courts removed.
The three courts on the concrete slab at the park at 501 W. Wisconsin St. were installed in 2021 as the Park District expanded the number of pickleball courts in Chicago to meet demand for the growing sport. But it sparked a tense conflict, which came to a head in March when some neighbors accused players of acting hostile toward children and their families and the park’s pickleball hours were restricted.
On Wednesday, a worker who identified himself as a Park District employee started painting over two of the pickleball courts’ lines, effectively removing them, said player Lisa Davis, who was at the park when it happened.
White paint where the court lines used to be could still be seen on the ground next to the yellow lines on the remaining court.
A Park District spokesperson did not immediately answer questions about when work to remove the courts began or why the decision was made.
“This is a terrible solution that just makes no sense,” Davis said. “They’ve given no indication how this is going to work if we’re playing, and there are kids on the cement slab. And they haven’t engaged with us to let us be part of any safe solution.”
A spokesperson for Ald. Timmy Knudsen’s office (43rd) said neighbors began raising concerns in the fall about about the lack of space and limited number of kids parks in the area. People also raised issue with the lack of pickleball courts citywide, the spokesperson said.
The city is working to bring new pickleball courts to Oz and Clover parks, the spokesperson said. Stakeholders are also advocating for courts at Jonquil Park.
“Ald. Knudsen’s office is asking for local park advisory councils to look for additional space in their locations, as foot traffic in our parks boosts public safety,” the spokesperson said. “Ald. Knudsen’s office is committed to ensuring that all voices in our community are heard and listened to on this issue, as demand for the sport of pickleball is rapidly changing.”
Davis, who uses the courts with a group of players who coordinate play times through an app, launched a petition this fall to “save pickleball” at Bauler Park after the conflict started brewing.
Davis said she wants the two courts reinstalled and players’ evening hours reinstated.
Leslie Miller, a neighbor who believes the concrete slab should be reserved for kids, created a counter petition calling to save the park from a “pickleball takeover.”
Miller previously told Block Club players were using the courts outside of their designated hours, leading to tension with families. In some cases, players have intimidated kids off the concrete so they can set up their nets and play, called others an “a–hole,” yelled in front of children and used their paddle to scoot kids out of the way.
“At this point, we are cautiously optimistic, but do feel that this hasn’t entirely played out,” Miller told Block Club on Thursday.
Hillary Morse, another neighbor who wants the courts removed, previously told Block Club they were installed “without any community involvement” and therefore should be taken down.
“All of a sudden they were just up, and I don’t think it was ill-intentioned by any means. But if there was community involvement, these problems could have been addressed,” Morse previously said. “The heart of the matter is they shouldn’t have been there in the first place.”
Jared Molk, a neighbor who was one of four players using the pickleball court Thursday, said the saga was “embarrassing for everyone.”
“The whole way this is played out with painters coming in under the veil of secrecy to cover up the lines is embarrassing for the park district and the neighbors,” Molk said. “To call this a compromise is ridiculous.”
Molk said the concrete slab is not used by children enough to justify the level of outrage surrounding the pickleball courts. He also blasted the Park District for a lack of communication throughout the saga.
“It feels like our voice doesn’t count,” Molk said. “This is a bad precedent for the Park District to set when you essentially allow a few neighbors to dictate what’s going to happen with a public park that’s supposed to be accessible to millions of people in the city.”
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