Organizers head back after a Skinner Park Rally to save the park's basketball courts on Saturday. Credit: Joanna Hou/Block Club Chicago

WEST LOOP — Neighbors called on city officials to save Skinner Park’s basketball courts during a Saturday rally.

Plans to build a new field house at Skinner Park, 1331 W. Adams St., have stalled for years, even as the West Loop’s population boomed. Now, as the field house plan finally moves forward, neighbors are disappointed it would eliminate the park’s outdoor basketball courts.

“We have nowhere to grow. We need to have a commitment of the city to invest in our neighborhood,” said May Toy, president of the Skinner Park Advisory Council. “What we’re seeing is a lack of investment in our neighborhood, even though our population has grown so dramatically.” 

The current field house, built in 1955, is 750 square feet with public bathrooms, a lobby and one small community club room. The building is not accessible, and the bathrooms are rarely unlocked, Toy said. When the park district hosts programs for kids, parents have to wait outside — a near-impossible ask during the winter, she added. 

Instead of building over the courts, Toy and other advocates want the field house built on the parking lot of the police academy located across the street at 1300 W. Jackson Blvd. Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) previously said that could be a hard sell for the city, which may need to sell the property.

Protesters marched from the basketball courts to the parking lot Saturday. Though Toy said she thought Burnett would attend the rally to listen to community members, he did not show up.

Organizers gathered in Skinner Park to fight for their outdoor, accessible basketball courts. Credit: Provided

Burnett did not immediately respond to Block Club’s request for comment, but has previously said he wants to use the neighborhood’s expiring TIF to build the field house before the funding expires.

Toy said she would rather see the money come slowly from another source than see the new structure replace the courts.

Paul Doran, who lives down the street from the park, said West Loop residents are the ones who have worked tirelessly to maintain the park. When he walks to the park in the morning, he said he sees Toy or a couple watering the flowers.

Neighbors should have a say about what happens to the park because they are the ones maintaining it, Doran said. 

“Because it’s outdoors, anybody can come over, anybody can play, anybody can enjoy,” he said. “I’ve seen one group playing on one side, another playing on the other, and then they join to compete.” 

Over the last six years, the basketball courts have become a place to build community, said Michael Rottar. Every Saturday, Rottar drives from Lakeview to Skinner Park to play basketball with 15 other people at 8:30 a.m.

Wrapping up their game as the rally began Saturday, Rottar and others picked up signs that said “Keep our courts.”  

“It feels like [building a field house over the courts] was motivated by money and not by what regular people actually need,” he said. “This court gets used all the time. Weekdays, weeknights, it’s slammed.” 

Toy said the problem has multiple layers because while community members want a field house, they don’t want to have to sacrifice one of the few remaining accessible spaces they have left.

She said she’s worried that if a field house replaces the courts, the indoor space will not be readily available to community members, and West Loop residents might have to work around the needs of the Chicago Park District, just like they already have to at the Whitney Young High School pool.

In 1995, half of Skinner Park’s land was given to the school for an athletic facility, but community members are rarely able to use the facility.

West Loop community members reflected on what Skinner Park and its courts mean to them. Credit: Joanna Hou/Block Club Chicago

Since Cynthia Morrison first moved to the West Loop 22 years ago, she has become a fan of the bracket competition that takes place at the basketball courts each summer. She said it is more difficult to build that sort of community in an indoor facility with limited hours of access.  

“If they’re forced to play indoors, then you’re going to have to schedule it because there will be all these other events and you can’t say, ‘Hey, let’s go and play,'” Morrison said.

Paramita Bandyopadhyay, a West Loop resident of 10 years who also attended the protest, said many neighbors don’t have backyards, and the park is one of the only green spaces in the area. She frequents the park with her family and regularly watches people from all backgrounds play together on the courts. 

“This is one place where I feel like I see the humanity of Chicago, all types of people. I feel very comfortable, it’s a very safe place,” Bandyopadhyay said. “We don’t have anything [else] like that within walking distance. This is the only place.” 

Rally organizers hung up a long sheet of paper on the field house’s wall, asking community residents to share why they valued Skinner Park and its courts.

Toy said the advisory council’s petition, launched in July of 2023, has almost 3,000 signatures. The support from the community indicates to her that keeping the courts — and building a more accessible field house that meets community demands — is worth fighting for. 

“We’re not going to quit. We’re going to keep up the pressure. We believe that this is an important fight for us,” Toy said. “They should walk the talk that they espouse during the campaign, that they value community input, that they want to listen to us … but you’re not doing that if you’re going to sell off the only piece of land the Park District owns to a developer.”

Help Block Club Get
500 More Subscribers!

Subscribe to Block Club now and you’ll get a free 16-by-20-inch Chicago neighborhood print of your choice, helping us reach our goal of getting 500 more subscribers before 2024. Click here to subscribe or click here to gift a subscription.

Listen to the Block Club Chicago podcast: