The objective of Grant Park's current stewards is to balance the uses of the land so it can be enjoyed by more people. Tennis courts and baseball fields are fun for some, but they take up a lot of space for only a few people get to take advantage of them at a time. That's why new developments inside the park try to find ways to pack many different types of activities into one space. This is no better demonstrated than by the two, yes two, new parks being built inside Grant Park right now. While Maggie Daley Park gets most of the public's attention, with its vexing styrofoamy blocks and its dreamy promise of ice skating on a ribbon, but on the far opposite side of massive Grant Park there is another experimental designed park being built as well. While not as spacious, whimsical, or expensive as the Maggie Daley Park in the northeast, the feature known only as Grant Park Skate Park that's under construction in a pocket of the southwest corner of Grant Park is not exactly bland fair either.
The three-acre park area is built with a modern urban park sensibility in mind, and according to the Grant Park Advisory Council will be the country's first skate park built in a major city's "front yard" park. That could be because, while the idea of a public skate park might seem like a news report being sent through time from 1993, this isn't a repurposed concrete parking lot we're talking about.
The array of skatable surfaces and obstacles for skateboarders, in-line skaters, and BMX bikers will be interspersed with trees and green life, and the skating area itself will be surrounded by landscaped lawn areas and a performance area for viewing Movies in the Park or various shows and events all totaling over a thousand trees planted of fifty varieties. There was even an eco-centric approach to groundwater drainage and retention, which allowed the design to forgo a sewer connection and handle rainwater naturally.The 11th Street bridge, which takes pedestrians over the South Shore Metra lines between Michigan Avenue and Columbus, will serve as a viewing platform where people will be able to watch the skaters from above.
Does a skate park make sense in Grant Park though? The planners are pretty confident, as there are over 60,000 college students within a mile of the location, and even more student-focused private housing developments are on the way nearby. Also, the South Loop neighborhood is filling up with young families whose kids will soon be looking for nearby activities. Being right off of Roosevelt Road on the main walking route to Museum Campus and Bears games means the skate park won't go unnoticed, either, like some of the other sports facilities Grant Park offers might. Did you know there's beach volleyball courts right around the corner?
The project is financed by a combination of TIF dollars, personal endowments, and even some "sorry we screwed up your lawn" money from the organizers of Lollapalooza. Work began earlier this month, and crews are currently digging up and relocating dirt to rebuild the retention wall needed to tame the sloped terrain. The park is projected to finish this November, which you might think is poor timing for a skate park if seasonal weather patterns still behaved predictably.
This smart use of parkland is a promising improvement to the underappreciated south end of Grant Park, and could be a boon to the South Loop as walkability and placemaking become important factors for up and coming communities, and who may feel they lost out on an opportunity for a proper park with the British School deal.