By William S. Bike
Is the City neglecting Armour Square Park when it comes to upkeep and upgrades? One community activist says yes, and the local alderwoman and Chicago Park District are working on remedying the situation.
The park is located at 3309 S. Shields Ave. in the Armour Square/Bridgeport community.
Ann Caruso, a former member of the park’s advisory council, remains active in park and community affairs. She asserted the advisory council and community often have been directly responsible for improvements at the park, with little help from the City.
For example, Caruso said, “The advisory council collected money from neighborhood businesses and residents to build a bit of a workout room—which still needs an exhaust system. We raised funds for the playground area from businesses and people in the neighborhood, too. Other parks have it done by the City of Chicago through TIF money and other funding sources” such as the City of Chicago Corporate (general) Fund.
She noted in early November that a walking path “is used by quite a few elderly people and has been designated for repair for years, but nobody has been there to do anything. The sprinkler seems to be from like 1906.”
The City subsequently began work on the walking path in mid-November.
Meanwhile, Caruso said, “McGuane Park has a new fieldhouse and other improvements, and Palmisano Park has new walking steps. Ping Tom Park is nice. But Armour sits by the wayside. Anything we want we have to work hard for. I understand that other communities need improvements, but things are not any easier in our community. We count too. We matter too. Our tax dollars go for public schools, but they go to the Park District, too.”
Caruso noted Armour Square Park is supposed to get two pickleball courts and the tennis courts are supposed to be resurfaced. “But we’ve heard all these promises before,” she said.
She also alleged the community had a difficult time getting the Armour Square Park pool open in 2023. “I did it through my phone calls, phone call after phone call,” Caruso explained. “It’s just like pulling teeth to get anything done.”
Alderwoman Nicole Lee (11th Ward) responded, “Ensuring Armour Square Park—just like every park in the 11th Ward—has what it needs is extremely important to me.”
Lee confirmed the City plans to meet many of the park needs that Caruso delineated.
“Over the next few months, there are a number of repairs scheduled for Armour Square Park, including refurbishing the walking path and tennis courts, ultimately turning two into pickleball courts and one into a convertible tennis/pickleball court,” Lee said. “I’m glad that the park will also be receiving a new track soon.”
Michele Lemons, spokesperson for the Chicago Park District, confirmed that “tennis and pickleball court renovation has been designed. We anticipate construction to begin later next year.”
In response to Caruso’s noting the sprinkler system is old, Lemons said, “the spray feature is not slated for renovations at this time.”
Lemons anticipates no problems with the pool. “The Armour Square pool is fully functional,” she explained.
What about TIF money?
Caruso would like to see TIF (tax increment financing) money used to improve Armour Square Park. “Other parks have improvements done by the City of Chicago through TIF money,” she noted.
That option, however, currently is not possible for Armour Square Park, Lee explained.
“Since Armour Square Park is located within the Red Line Extension TIF, these funds are not available for park improvements,” Lee said. At this time, Red Line TIF money is earmarked for Chicago Transit Authority (CTA)improvements.
Some local residents question the benefit of the CTA Red Line extension to the local community. However the CTA notes this project will result in travel time savings, allow workers to travel easily from or to the community, and generate jobs. The CTA also notes the Red Line extension “will be one of the single biggest investments” in the South Side “in decades.”
While TIFs remain controversial, if a park sits within a TIF district and if funds are available, TIF money actually could benefit local residents by helping the park.
As Lemons noted, “The McGuane Park Field House was recently reopened after a major renovation project including roof, elevator, utility upgrades, and interior as well as exterior improvements to the parking lot, patio, spray pool, and pathways. The total project cost was $6.1 million and was largely funded through a $5.7 allocation of TIF funding.”
Caruso and her fellow community activists will continue to keep an eye on Armour Square Park and its future, fully aware how things have played out in the past. She noted she originally came from the Wentworth Avenue area, which saw the City and Federal government demolish housing to build the Dan Ryan Expressway.
As part of that demolition, “we were promised more green space in the vicinity but never got it,” Caruso said. “I’m 70 years old and I’ve lived within a two mile radius my whole life. We have a great group of people who sometimes give up because they get tired of begging the City.
“I’m not one to give up,” she asserted. “I want what we’re entitled to. Let’s get together and get something accomplished.”
Lee wants to see that as well because “Parks are an important community resource where residents can enjoy recreational activities, connect with neighbors, and more,” she said.
For more information about capital investments in Armour Square Park, log on to www.chicagoparkdistrict.com/about-us/departments/operations/planning-and-constructioncapital-improvement-plan.
To contact Armour Square Park, call (312) 747-6012.
For the Chicago Park District, log on to www.chicagoparkdistrict.
com or call (312) 742-PLAY (7529). For Lee’s office call (773) 254-6677.
Lemons noted interested parties can make suggestions for additional improvements at Armour Square Park at www.chicagoparkdistrict.com/capital-improvement-plan-suggestions.