Renovated Park To Lose Diamonds; Softball League Must Take A Walk

CHICAGO (CBS) — A popular Streeterville park will have a different look come summer as the city is set to get rid of two softball fields and replace them with grass.

Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) plans to remake Lake Shore Park in early June to accommodate the large number of families living in the area by providing a space for young kids to play outside.

“We’re looking to get away from tightly scheduled programming,” Hopkins said. “The idea is to let the community use the open fields for their own recreational needs as they see fit.”

The main summer attraction at the park, 808 N. Lake Shore Drive, has been a coed softball league that used the park’s two softball diamonds on weekday evenings.

With the diamonds gone, the Chicago Sport & Social Club will need to find somewhere else for the softball league; it has paid the Chicago Park District $14,000 a year to host the league at Lake Shore Park.

The diamonds are only two of 60 in the city that the club uses for softball. Hopkins said the club wasn’t initially happy to lose the fields but “reluctantly accepted” the change.

The Chicago Sport & Social Club didn’t return requests for comment.

While losing the league means less money for the park district, Hopkins said the Streeterville neighborhood gains more in return.

“[The old deal was] not at all a good trade-off. It’s worth so much more for the residents to use the park on a summer evening,” he said. “We’re not going to miss the $14,000.”

The Chicago Park District didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Hopkins said the revamped park will have new sod and a new drainage system. The $30,000 expense was essential, he said; the surface currently has just a thin layer of topsoil on top of a layer of clay and, below that, landfill. The park, surrounded by luxury high-rises, often has been muddy in the summer, he said, with standing water that draws mosquitoes.

With the softball league out of the picture from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on summer weekdays, Hopkins said the community, which has more families than it did when the diamonds were installed, will have more room in the park for other activities.

“It’s the right thing to do, and it’s a decision that’s largely supported by the community,” Hopkins said.

Janet Murphy, who lives in building overlooking the park, said she uses the space often and enjoys watching the softball games in the summer. She said she has no problem with Hopkins, but she doesn’t like the idea of removing an organized sport that can keep people distracted from Chicago’s bigger issues.

“It’s almost a genius park, because it’s so simple,” Murphy said. “[Hopkins is] not a bad guy, he’s trying to make people happy. But I think the idea of taking out sports activities to have people sit down isn’t brilliant. They’re taking away something we’ve had.”

Murphy said she thinks the decision was made with little input from the community.

Hopkins said that’s not the case. He set up community meetings, and he spoke with the park’s advisory committee, which also gave unanimous approval of the project.

“I feel confident that a majority of the local residents think this is the right thing to do,” Hopkins said.

Al Shiner, a member of the park’s advisory committee — a voluntary, self-appointed group which meets to support the functioning of the park — said the unanimous vote is misleading. Shiner didn’t approve of the renovations, but he wasn’t at the meetings with Hopkins to voice his concerns.

“I think it would be a great disservice to this community to get rid of the diamonds,” Shiner said. “[Softball is] right next to apple pie and Chevrolet; it’s an American tradition.”

Shiner said he thinks a small group of neighbors complained that the park gets too noisy during the softball games, and that forced Hopkins to make a change.

Hopkins said he met with residents who were opposed to the changes, and he compromised on certain issues.

Some residents expressed concern for a program which lets kids go to the park to practice pitching and hitting on Saturday mornings in the summer.

Hopkins said the group didn’t need full softball fields, so he agreed to buy a portable backstop, which will be brought out on Saturdays for the “little sluggers” program.

He said the change will take about 30 days to complete, with renovations set to start in the first week of June.

(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2017. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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