Park District HQ on South Side to Deliver Open Space and That Other Green: Money

A rendering of John Ronan Architects’ plan for the Park District’s new headquarters in the Brighton Park neighborhood. (Courtesy of Chicago Park District)A rendering of John Ronan Architects’ plan for the Park District’s new headquarters in the Brighton Park neighborhood. (Courtesy of Chicago Park District)

The Chicago Park District officially broke ground Thursday on the agency’s new $65 million, 58,000-square-foot headquarters in the Brighton Park neighborhood.

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The building will anchor a 17-acre, multiuse campus that will also include a park field house, playground, athletic fields, grand lawn and a natural area, among other amenities. Situated in the shadow of the CTA Orange Line, the site has been dubbed “L” Campus.

“This is an exciting next chapter. We’re coming to the neighborhood, we’re coming to the South Side,” said Mike Kelly, Chicago Park District general superintendent and CEO.

The need for a new headquarters was precipitated by the 2014 sale of the Park District’s current home at 541 N. Fairbanks Ct. in Streeterville. The agency has been leasing space in the building ever since, an agreement that’s set to expire in 2022.

In scouting places to relocate, the Park District focused on the South, Southwest and West sides, looking not just for available land but for a property where a project of such magnitude could make a lasting impact on a variety of fronts.

The city acquired the parcel, a vacated industrial site, at 4830 S. Western Ave. in 2018 for $8 million.

“This is an area we need to be in. This is an area that needs investment. It’s certainly an area that needs green space,” said Kelly. 

Brighton Park has an open space need of 66.68 acres, placing it in the top five park‐deficient communities in Chicago, according to the Park District.

Along with essentially creating a new park that will provide people with room for recreation, leisure and respite, the campus has the potential to spur economic activity, in the form of the 200 full-time park employees who work at the district’s headquarters. 

“I can attest, with those employees comes buying power. Park employees spend money … and they’re going to be spending it on the South Side,” Kelly said.

Craig Chico, president of the Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council, said the campus sends a signal to people in the community that they’re worth investing in and has the potential to forever alter the trajectory of many of the area’s youth.

“This has never taken place in my lifetime,” said Chico, who was born and raised in the community. “This is the first time in my lifetime I can actually remember seeing something as grandiose, as iconic, as a Chicago Park District headquarters being build on the South Side of Chicago. This is the wealth-building we talk about on paper — this is it in reality, this is it happening.”

The Chicago firm John Ronan Architects was chosen to design the district’s headquarters. The firm came up with a two-story circular building that will encompass both the Park District’s administrative offices as well as a 20,000-square-foot field house, with the two distinct uses delineated by a pathway. It’s anticipated occupancy date is winter 2023.

Contact Patty Wetli: @pattywetli | (773) 509-5623 |  [email protected]

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