Trumpeting a “quiet revolution in our neighborhood parks,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Monday announced a plan to pump $290 million into more than 800 parks and recreation facilities during the next five years.
Although Emanuel characterized his plan as an “unprecedented investment,” some of the projects he touted, such as the $100 million 31st Street Harbor set to open in May, were approved and funded under former Mayor Richard Daley. Others, like a $2.5 million plan to renovate 100 outdoor basketball courts, had previously been outlined.
The mayor did break ground in announcing that three Chicago-based corporations — Exelon, Boeing and CNA — would donate a combined $7 million to the $46 million first phase of the Bloomingdale Trail and Park, a 2.65-mile park and multiuse path to be built on an old elevated railroad spur on the Northwest Side.
“We have a beautiful front yard,” Emanuel said, alluding to Chicago’s renowned lakefront parks and beaches. “We’re now going to make our backyard as beautiful as our front yard.”
Despite the fanfare, Emanuel’s $290 million spending blueprint is actually the Chicago Park District’s capital improvement plan for 2012-2016, and is less than the 2011-2015 plan of $306 million.
New elements in the plan call for buying 180 acres and building 12 parks and 20 playgrounds.
After years in which glamorous downtown projects like Millennium Park grabbed headlines, Emanuel said he wanted to direct resources to neighborhood parks like the Bloomingdale Trail and Park.
“For years, people have been studying what to do,” Emanuel said at an elementary school just north of the proposed trail. “That period of discussion has now come to an end, and the building will begin.”
Exelon is donating $5 million while Boeing and CNA are giving $1 million each, officials said.
Construction is to start later this year, giving Chicago an answer to New York’s celebrated, 1.45-mile-long High Line. Indulging Chicago’s penchant for superlatives, city officials called the future park and multiuse path “the world’s longest elevated trail.”
Federal funds will cover $37 million of the project’s first phase. The Park District will spend $2 million on the project, even though city officials said last week it would not require local tax dollars. The first phase is due to open in 2014.
The Trust for Public Land advocacy group has committed to raising $35 million for the second phase, bringing the trail’s total cost to $81 million.
“I don’t envision any taxpayer piece on the second phase,” Emanuel said.
About $155 million of the $290 million park improvement plan will come from bonds backed by property tax revenues, Park District officials said. Federal and state grants, as well private donations, would supply an additional $135 million.
“This is not based on any kind of tax hike,” said Jessica Maxey-Faulkner, a Park District spokeswoman.