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Mayor Rahm Emanuel, State Senator Donne Trotter, State Representative Marcus Evans, Aldermen Michelle Harris, Walter Burnett, Jr., Danny Solis and the Chicago Park District joined Conrad Worrill and community members to hold a rally at Gately Park in Pullman to urge Governor Bruce Rauner to immediately reverse his decision to freeze previously awarded state grants from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR); Chicago stands to lose $28 million in funding for 27 park improvement projects in 25 parks that are planned or in progress if the freeze is not undone.
"The Governor talks about a shared sacrifice, but his budget and decisions to freeze previously awarded grants ask the children and families of Chicago to do all of the sacrificing," said Mayor Emanuel. "Today, I join with a united community to ask the Governor to restore these cuts and save these parks so that we can keep building a better Chicago community by community."
The rally was held at Gately Park in Pullman, which is one 25 parks throughout Chicago that will be negatively affected by the spending freeze. In October of 2014, Mayor Emanuel joined members of the Pullman community to announce that a $20 million investment from the City and state would fund the construction of a new indoor track facility at Gately Park. This project would be the first public indoor track in the City and is a project that community members have advocated to build for more than three decades. Now that IDNR grants are frozen, the project will lose $2.5 million in funding, meaning the project cannot move forward.
"Strong parks build strong communities and strong communities build a strong Chicago," said Michael Kelly, general superintendent and CEO of the Chicago Park District. "The $28 million in cuts threaten over $90 million in projects, adversely impacting the parks of children and families throughout the city.”
A total of 27 Chicago projects at 25 parks across Chicago stand to lose $28 million for improvements if this funding is not restored. A full list of affected park projects can be viewed here. Projects in parks across the City and include new park developments, new turf fields, facility renovations and ADA transition renovations.
"Governor Rauner needs to retreat quickly and unfreeze these funds," said Dr. Conrad Worrill. "We need to save our parks for our children -- particularly African-American children who will benefit from track and field, which has such a storied history in Chicago."
Worrill has spent 30 years advocating for the project, starting with the late Mayor Harold Washington, and later with Mayor Emanuel.
"Mayor Emanuel and Ald. Harris know the significance of this project and what it means for our children and their futures. This will not only inspire our children, but economic development in the area."
"I am so disappointed that the new governor is cutting funds that affect children," said Alderman Michelle Harris. "It sends the message that he doesn’t care about children in Illinois."
"I will not stand by and let these children be harmed in the name of fiscal policy, and I join my community in demanding that this promised funding be restored," said State Senator Mattie Hunter.
"The park projects are needed for the community and our youth,” said State Representative Elgie Sims. “Funding cuts like these, directly impacting our children, should not happen."
"Working with Mayor Emanuel, the recreational opportunities in my ward have never been better, and my constituents routinely tell me how much they value these neighborhood assets,” said Walter Burnett, Jr. “We cannot afford to reverse the progress we’ve made to create a world-class park system, and I join my constituents and colleagues in urging the Governor to correct this egregious mistake."
"Our parks are one of the most important treasures in the city,” said Alderman James Balcer. “I would hate to see funding cuts that would affect our children."
"Our children and families were expecting the state deliver the funding that had already been awarded,” said Alderman Michele Smith. “Parks, playgrounds and open spaces are not only community assets, they are key drivers of economic growth, and I urge the Governor to reverse his ill-conceived decision."
"Children understand that you shouldn’t break a promise, but I’m not sure they’ll understand why Governor Rauner is breaking the state's promise to fund park improvements," said Alderman Jason Ervin. "Chicago's award-winning parks make the City a place where families want to live and raise children; this spending freeze is a step in the wrong direction."
Mayor Emanuel and the Chicago Park District have been committed to enhancing the quality of life of Chicago residents by providing safe and inviting parks and facilities and creating a park system that prioritizes the needs of children and families. Under Mayor Emanuel’s leadership, Chicago’s park system has drastically expanded with the addition of more than 750 acres of new park land, 27 new turf fields, 17 new parks, 11 new community facilities, more than 150 refurbished playgrounds and more than $500 million in capital investments from public and private sources.
Late last year, an economic analysis showed that parks and playgrounds are a driver of economic growth for the City of Chicago. The analysis concluded that Chicago Park District parks add at least $900 million to the value of residential properties located close to parks. Moreover, major events, special assets and tourism in these parks drive an economic impact of between $1.2 billion to $1.4 billion for the City each year.
The Chicago Park District is the 2014 Gold Medal Award winner, recognized for excellence in park and recreation management across the nation. For more information about the Chicago Park District’s more than 8,300 acres of parkland, 585 parks, 26 miles of lakefront, 12 museums, two world-class conservatories, 16 historic lagoons, 10 bird and wildlife gardens, thousands of special events, sports and entertaining programs, please visit www.chicagoparkdistrict.com or contact the Chicago Park District at 312.742.PLAY or 312.747.2001 (TTY). Want to share your talent? Volunteer in the parks by calling, 312.742.PLAY.