A Park Is Born: Plans Begin For Westhaven Park on Chicago’s Near West Side

The Huddle--Neighborhood Residents Offer Their Input on Westhaven Park

Poison Ivy. Ketchup on hot dogs. Justin Bieber.

Some stuff has a crummy reputation. Just say the word or phrase and it will elicit a frown, a cringe, a curse. For example, the three-letter acronym T.I.F.

Future Site Of Westhaven Park

Future Site Of Westhaven Park

But one Chicago T.I.F. project just getting off the ground will not be lining the pockets of a rich developer or create a high-rise for affluent attorneys.  It will fund a modest little park in a Near West Side neighborhood that could really use it.

Westhaven Park will be a reality in the Spring of 2015 at the corner of West Washington and North Wolcott Avenue, just north of the United Center. Right now, the 1.75-acre park is a mere gleam in the eye of Michael Lange, project manager for the Chicago Park District. Lange explained the process and plans for Westhaven at a community meeting at the Union Park Fieldhouse last night.

Left to right: Chicago Parks District Project Manager Michael Lange and Alderman Walter Burnett Junior

Left to right: Chicago Parks District Project Manager Michael Lange and Alderman Walter Burnett Junior

“This was an area set aside for a park development, but there was no funding,” Lange said. “Then, Alderman Walter Burnett got T.I.F. funds for environmental remediation and development of a park.”

Lange spoke to a small group of residents who live near the Westhaven site. Keisha, one of the residents, said the park would be a welcome addition to the neighborhood. She lives directly across the street, and sees firsthand the bad combination of a vacant lot and men with too much idle time.

“My fear is that it will be a hangout,” she said. “Guys from the neighborhood gather there now and hang out. They sit out until 2 a.m., 3 a.m. in the morning in the summer. I have a 10-year-old daughter and a 17-year-old son, so I worry about safety.”

Alderman Burnett responded that the property—as a city park—would eliminate the late-night loitering.

Alderman Walter Burnett Junior

Alderman Walter Burnett Junior

“It will have a closing time,” Burnett said. “After that, the police have the authority to tell people to leave.”

Last night’s meeting was essentially a brainstorming session where residents could voice their wishes for the new park. They all agreed that it would ideally be an active space, inviting to young and old, where people could gather, where kids could play, perhaps have a picnic or barbecue.

The feedback from the meeting will be a key planning tool, said the Park District’s Michael Lange. Beginning today, a new Chicago Park District website will be available for residents to comment on the Westhaven development. The site – improvechiparks.com – is designed as an online forum to share ideas for what the park should be.

“I’m excited about this,” Burnett said. “It’s a great opportunity for the community. This can be a place to bring a diverse community together.”

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Bill Motchan

Author: Bill Motchan

Bill Motchan lives in the West Loop and is the author of the West Loop Wanderings blog, published in the now defunct Chicago Journal.

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