For more than a decade, pile drivers, cement trucks, and tower cranes have been busy in the northeast corner of The Loop known as Lakeshore East. Although workers continue to expand the downtown neighborhood with The Coast (345 East Wacker Drive), there are still ten more buildings still to be constructed, and a lot of prime Chicago real estate is covered with weeds.
At the same time, the Chicago Park District has a problem in the portion of Grant Park officially known as Daley Bicentennial Plaza (337 East Randolph Street). As we’ve been telling you for the last few years, the entire northeast portion of Grant Park is being removed to expose and repair the parking garage below. Some people believe this might be the world’s largest green roof. But what is certain is that it’s a huge, disruptive project that has park lovers and neighborhood residents on edge.
Part of the problem is what to do with the 12 tennis courts that currently cover almost two acres of parkland. When they were installed more than a half a century ago, they were in vogue and people didn’t think twice about paving over public park space with asphalt that would be used by only a handful of people for a small portion of the year.
By modern urban design and environmental standards, the tennis courts are a nightmare. They’re a dilapidated legacy amenity used by a very small, but very vocal and influential, group of people who are so used to treating this portion of Grant Park as their personal playground that they forget the park is both front lawn and public space for the entire city of 2.7 million people.
As the Park District takes advantage of the parking garage roof repair to plant a 21st-century park on the shores of Lake Michigan one of its big goals is to make this corner of Grant Park attract more people — from across the city, day and night, and all year round. That runs right into the limited use pseudo country club elitism that is manifested in the Daley Bi tennis courts.
But the clever beans at the Grant Park Advisory Council may have come up with a solution that helps both the park and local real estate developers: Put the tennis courts in an unbuilt portion of Lakeshore East.
As was wryly noted by one of the typically elderly tennis activists at a recent public meeting, the four skyscrapers planned for Section C of Lakeshore East “won’t be built in my lifetime.” Moving the tennis courts to this location (highlighted in orange on the Lakeshore East Master Plan) would allow this special interest group to continue playing, while beautifying a troublesome corner of Lakeshore East for its developers.
No one wants to live next to a vacant lot, and having condos overlooking a set of tennis courts instead of construction debris can only raise the value of the homes in The Lancaster, The Chandler, and The Regatta.
To be sure, the notion is only at its very early stages, but Bob O’Neil of the Grant Park Advisory Council stated that the notion has been brought up with Lakeshore East’s developers, and they have been receptive to beginning negotiations.
The likely scenario is that the land in Section C will be leased to the Chicago Park District for use as a public park. Once the economy turns around enough and the developers are ready to move forward, the temporary tennis courts would disappear.
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