By Kelly White
Pickleball has come to Grant Park.
The sport combines elements of tennis, ping pong, and badminton into one family-friendly game. Players compete in singles or doubles on a court that looks like a tennis court but is much smaller. Instead of tennis rackets, players use paddles and a plastic ball.
Thanks to a $500,000 grant from Lollapalooza and $41,000 from the Grant Park Advisory Council (GPAC), 16 new pickleball courts and six tennis courts now are open in the south end of Grant Park.
“My opinion on the benefit of the courts is that it helps develop a part of Grant Park as a recreational benefit for the residents of the Loop and South Loop who call Grant Park their neighborhood park,” Jim Wales, GPAC vice president and South Loop Neighbors president, said.
“The allocation of resources devoted to enhancing Grant Park for neighborhood use has been sorely lacking, and this is one major first step toward addressing that deficiency,” Wales added.
Lollapalooza’s contribution came after years of wear and tear from attendees who have used the tennis courts continually for festival parking. The pickleball courts now sit next to the tennis courts on what used to be a sand volleyball court.
The project began in 2021 when Wales partnered with GPAC president Leslie Recht on getting permanent pickleball courts in Grant Park after receiving a petition and many requests from pickleball players living in the South Loop and nearby areas. After receiving the petition, the council started a pickleball committee and raised money to offset the cost of adding new courts.
“The tennis courts currently located at Maggie Daley Park have been used part time for pickleball for many years, but the players felt that this was not adequate,” Recht said.
Courts at 9th and Columbus
The new pickleball courts are located at 9th Street and Columbus Drive. When deciding on court placement, GPAC contacted then-4th Ward Alderwoman Sophia King and Park District staff.
King asked Lollapalooza to donate $100,000 to repair existing tennis courts and add eight pickleball courts. The tennis courts’ poor condition resulted from many vehicles parking on them over the years during major events in Grant Park—not just Lollapalooza.
Students at William Jones College Preparatory High School, 700 S. State St., including the tennis team, also have used the tennis courts for years.
“We looked at the old concrete slab next to the tennis courts and the sand volleyball court there and agreed with the Park District and the pickleball community that we should build 16 new pickleball courts on the site,” Recht said.
After the project expanded, Lollapalooza agreed to increase its donation to $500,000, more than what it is obligated contractually to spend to clean up Grant Park after its event. Last year, Lallapalooza spent $410,000 on cleanup.
The Park District asked pickleball players to raise $35,000 to help fund the new pickleball courts. Through GPAC, players raised $41,000, including a $30,000 donation from Ron Davies, a local investor and financial advisor.
“Grant Park’s new pickleball courts and renovated tennis courts transcend mere painted lines on asphalt; they’re bringing people from all races and backgrounds together to have fun,” current 4th Ward Alderman Lamont Robinson said. “These courts are a prime example of the remarkable efforts achieved when the public and private sectors collaborate. It’s because of the combined efforts of Lollapalooza, the Chicago Park District, the Grant Park Advisory Council and dedicated residents that these courts are now here. I’m looking forward to seeing Jones College Prep students honing their skills on new state-of-the-art tennis courts, alongside other talented neighborhood kiddos. I can’t help but anticipate the next Wimbledon champion emerging out of Chicago.”
GPAC members also feel pleased with the new and renovated courts, Recht said.
The courts fit in with the 2002 framework plan for Grant Park, which recommended the park’s south end include more activities for neighbors who live nearby. The Park District has an initiative to add at least 50 pickleball courts across the park system over the next three years, with an ultimate goal of about 200 public pickleball courts across the city.
Courts are open to the public for daily use, with no reservations nor no age limit required.
“I am very proud and very happy to be a part of this successful project,” Recht said. “The Grant Park Advisory Council has been encouraging all major users of Grant Park to invest in capital projects like this one to repair and add to Grant Park.”
For the Chicago Park District, go to chicagoparkdistrict.com or call (312) 742-PLAY (7529). For GPAC, log on to www.facebook.com/ChicagoGPAC/. To contact Alderman Robinson, call (773) 924-4614 or email [email protected].