Revised Grant Park Renovation Plan Released

Plans for the redevelopment of North Grant Park are starting to come together. New York architecture firm Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates has come up with a revised and more detailed plan for the $30 million project, expected to get underway in the Autumn of 2012. Be sure to see our previous coverage for more details.

The park has to be entirely removed and replaces because it sits on the roof of the East Monroe Parking Garage. That roof is in bad need of repairs.

The current park will be stripped off, the roof repaired, and a new modern park put in its place. The proposed new park will be the first deviation in Grant Park’s traditional Old World layout, and is being designed to get maximum year-round use from a finite space.

Hats off to WBBM-TV for sending a camera to the public meeting about the plan.  There hasn’t been much interest in it from the other Chicago television stations to date.

Explore the diagrams below to see the park’s new and innovative features. We also present more information in the form of a question and answer session.

 Q: What’s the most interesting part of the new park?

A: The “skating ribbon.”  It’s a meandering concrete path around the climbing mountain.  It has the fun of ice skating, without the monotony of going around in a giant rectangle.  It’s been likened to the feeling of skating on a frozen creek in the woods, where the scenery changes around each bend.  To that end, there may even be evergreen trees planed in medians in the ribbon.  Also envisioned are built-in utilities so skaters could stop at a concession stand and warm up with a hot beverage without having to leave the ice.

 Q: What about the current ice rink?  A lot of ice hockey players use it almost every day.

A: No thought has been given to recreating the hockey rink.  But now that it has been brought up, it will be considered.

 Q: What would happen to the skating ribbon in the summer?

A: It’s pretty open.  Essentially, it’s a concrete gathering space.  Part can be used for a cafe.  Part can be decorated to engage children.  There could be temporary objects or shelters constructed on it.  It could be used as additional space for the groups that meet in the fieldhouse.

 Q: Do all the trees really have to die?

A: Yes. The majority of the trees are honey locusts, which are nearing the end of their natural life cycle. There are also ash trees, which have to be cut down and ground up anyway as part of a regional effort to stop the spread of the Emerald Ash Borer. Almost all ash trees in Chicagoland are being cut down to stop the infestation from getting worse.

But you’ll like the new trees. They will be from a greater number of species to make them more visually interesting, and to develop a more healthy ecosystem.

 Q: Why are the majority of play features located in the southeast corner of the park instead of in the northeast corner where they’d be closer to Lakeshore East and its neighboring condo buildings?

A:  Because Grant Park is Chicago’s front lawn, not just the New East Side’s front lawn. The new park design is intended to draw in people from all over the city. It’s Chicago’s premiere park, not a neighborhood play lot. There’s one of those 800 feet to the north.

 Q: What about tennis courts?  Where are the tennis courts!? For God’s sake, we can’t possibly survive without a giant slab of tennis courts!!

 A: There will be tennis courts. It’s still early in the design process, so the ones on the diagram right now may be moved or changed or otherwise altered. But there are six of them, the same number of tennis courts that are available in North Grant Park right now.

 Q: How DARE you move our sacred tennis courts! You’re the whippersnapper who moved my dentures, too, aren’t ya? I pay my taxes!!  I demand tennis courts!!!  

A: Tennis courts aren’t a great use for limited public land in the middle of a city. You end up with six people monopolizing two acres of park land, and it’s only useable for a limited amount of the year.

 Q: “What do you want instead of tennis courts, trees?” (An actual query from a rather vulgar elderly tennis court supporter.)

A:  Yes, trees in a park is a good idea. If you want to play tennis, join a private club with private courts in a private building on private land. Tennis courts are a special interest that gobbles up huge amounts of space. Yes, there are other special interest groups for whom the Park District makes accommodation (dog walkers, for example), but they don’t monopolize acres and acres of land and then complain when it’s not in a prime location.

 Q: What about wheelchair access?

A: All of the park’s pathways are wheelchair friendly. The only exception is in the southeast corner where there are some stairs. But otherwise, all of the elevation changes are very gentile. Even more so than a handicapped ramp would be.

 Q: Does the climbing mountain block the north-south view across Grant Park to Buckingham Fountain?

A:  Maybe. Quite possibly since it is pretty tall. But from that distance, you can barely see the fountain anyway. The reason the mountain is proposed for that location is because it sits on top of one of the garage’s air vents. That way it doesn’t take away potential green space from the rest of the park.

Other Notes

  • Grant Park has lots of big gathering spaces. Millennium Park has lots of small spaces. This project will address the medium-sized spaces.
  • Grant Park and Millennium Park aren’t necessarily designed with children in mind. This project creates spaces targeted directly at children.
  • People will be able to look down on the action in the skate board park from Randolph Street.
Previous Coverage:

Author: Editor

Editor founded the Chicago Architecture Blog in 2003, after a long career in journalism. He can be reached at

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