Publish Date
Building on Burnham 2.0 Presentation on April 16
Building on Burnham 2.0 presentation on April 16.Photo: Chicago Park District

Chicago Park District Superintendent Michael P. Kelly's speech at the two year anniversary of the launch of Building on Burnham inititiave 

Good morning everyone and welcome to Xcess Tennis.  I’m Mike Kelly General Superintendent and CEO of the Chicago Park District.

Today you sit or stand in one of Chicago’s premiere athletic facilities.  A facility that fills you with awe from the minute you walk in the building.  Its sheer size is matched only by its larger impact in creating opportunities for our youth.  

And it was in this neighborhood that some of Chicago’s most iconic sports heroes developed their skills.  Who could forget Baseball Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett?  Or Maurice “MO” Cheeks who was recently elected into the NBA HOF.  And of course the immortal Laurence Tureaud…also known as Mr. T.  

Who will be next?  I think we will know soon enough as generations of student athletes will come to Xcess to strengthen their minds as well as their bodies. Thank you Kamau Murray, President and CEO of Xcess tennis for hosting us this morning!

Next I want to recognize our Park District Board of Commissioners, elected officials and our local leaders.  But first, I want to take moment to celebrate the life of Bob Pickens.  We lost our dear friend over the weekend.  Bob was a long time commissioner and Vice President of the Chicago Park District.  Bob played for the Chicago Bears, and represented the United States as a Heavyweight Olympic Wrestler.   

But more importantly, this gentle giant loved children and he loved the parks.  Please join in me in a round of applause for our friend Bob Pickens because Bob wouldn’t settle for a moment of silence.    

Thank you.  And now Bob would say, “Kelly get on with it already!”

Two years ago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced at Hamilton Park in Englewood, his vision for Chicago’s parks and open space.  And along with his vision a comprehensive plan to invest in Chicago’s lakefront, our riverfront, our natural areas and our neighborhoods.  

We call this plan Building on Burnham.  And as you hopefully saw in the video, this plan compliments the diversity of our people and our neighborhoods.

We all know parks improve our quality of life.  Ask anyone from Chicago, “What’s your park?” And they will have an answer and usually a smile.  

Whether it was a childhood memory of a little league baseball game, a recent jog down the lakefront trail, or watching your children play in one of our playgrounds.  Everyone loves their parks in Chicago.  

But did you know that living near a park will also increase your property value?  It’s a fact, that in Chicago, if you live within a mere two blocks of a park, your property value is worth more.  

A value that totals over $900 million dollars citywide.  That applies to every neighborhood in Chicago and it’s a good thing that with over 600 parks, nearly half of all Chicagoans live within those two blocks.

So, it’s probably no surprise that when parks improve your quality of life and they raise your property value.  You want one! And I can attest that in my 23 years of public service, Chicagoans have a zeal for change and improvement.  And that’s why it is so exciting to be a part of Building on Burnham.  Making change!  All of us!  Stewards of Chicago for the next generations to come.

Show me a neighborhood and you will see its soul in its parks.  Chicago’s park system is second to none in America.  We are the largest accredited system in the country and we are also the largest city to win the coveted gold medal. 

With 600 parks, over 500 playgrounds and over 250 facilities, our parks and our fieldhouses are the gathering places for our neighborhoods.  And our programs are as popular as ever.

In fact, we have seen unprecedented growth in our programs.  Total enrollments increased by 49% since 2012 and we’ve reached over 100,000 registrations for a season now 8 times!!!!!  Again in 2012 we were doing half that.

Summer camp has increased by 31% and remarkably sold out last year!

Learn to swim is growing!  Teen specific programming is growing!  Therapeutic recreation is growing!  And even our senior programming jumped over 100% in those same years.

That’s quite a return on our investment and consequently, we offer more programs than ever before.  

And in order to maintain this momentum, we must reinvest in our facilities. 

Save Chicago’s Treasures is part of that investment.

In the next two years, 20 park district fieldhouses will receive improvements such as roof restoration, ADA accessibility upgrades and masonry work.  So far we’ve finished at Eckhart, Mann and Ridge, while Dvorak and Holstein are underway.  
In addition we will expand the facilities at Maplewood, McGuane and McFetridge.

And, we are not just restoring and expanding.  We are building new!

As I mentioned earlier, Chicagoans want change.  They want state of the art facilities like this one or Ping Tom fieldhouse.  I am proud to say we’ve delivered in the past and we will continue to deliver in the future.

Inspired by Clark Park and its campus of artificial turf soccer fields, baseball fields, rowing center and green space, Mayor Emanuel challenged us to bring that same type of high end design and investment to other parts of the city.  

Significant investments in artificial turf and lights are coming to West Chatham, Reed-Dunning, Wentworth and Near North.  These park improvements will anchor those communities overnight. 

For fifty years the Morgan Park community complained about sprawling acres of vacant land at 115th and Western.  Proudly, Morgan Park now has a state-of-the-art gymnastics center and an indoor ice arena that boasts 6,700 enrollments annually! 

Likewise, Ellis Park at the corner of 35th and Cottage Grove in Bronzeville operated for decades out of a trailer.  

The neighborhood didn’t have a pool or a park to be proud of.   Now, the Art and Recreation Center at Ellis Park, is one of our most popular parks.  
It offers 32,000 square feet of space, a five-lane competitive pool, a gymnasium, a fitness center, a rooftop deck and more!  Program offerings include baseball, swimming and fencing.  Out of the trailer in 2012, we offered 20 programs and had 186 enrollments.  Now, 192 programs and over 4,000 enrollments!  

But there’s still more!!!

This year we will break ground on the Exelon Center.  A state of the art facility on the Near West Side that offers an indoor running track, an indoor multipurpose field, two basketball courts, outdoor baseball diamonds and a football field.  

In the 9th ward, the Pullman Center is well underway.  This indoor recreation center hosts baseball, soccer, lacrosse, basketball, and volleyball as well as community space for the re-energized neighborhood.

And if that wasn’t enough, we will build a World Class indoor track and field facility at Gately Park.  In partnership with After School Matters, and thru the generosity of Melody Hobson and her husband George Lucas, this facility will be one of its kind in the Midwest.  

Who’s to say the next Jesse Owens isn’t among our children right now, training in their school hallways, needing only an opportunity to be better.  And as I said earlier with respect toward Xcess, the Gately facility will provide our children with limitless opportunities to grow their bodies and their minds.

And in addition to Ms. Hobson, Mr. Lucas and Exelon, I want to thank our partners at CHA (Mr. Gene Jones), CPS (Ms. Janice Jackson), and the local communities.  Every facility I just mentioned was paid for with a creative blend of private and public dollars.  

And I am ever encouraged by our civic and philanthropic leaders.  Thank you US Bank and of course a special thanks to Ken Griffin.  In a moment Mayor Emanuel will detail Ken’s gifts, but I wanted to take this chance to thank Ken and the US Soccer foundation for their support as we build 50 mini soccer pitches together throughout Chicago.  

On August 31, 1910, former President and outdoorsmen, Theodore Roosevelt spoke in Kansas on his philosophy in regard to conservation.  He opened with, “Conservation means development as much as it does protection.”

Over 100 years since that speech.  We agree.

Seven years ago we could barely count 800 acres of natural area.

Since 2011, we’ve added over 1000 acres.

That’s 300 acres more than all of Central Park. 

And now with 1,800 acres of natural area in our inventory we will honor our ambitious prior commitment of two thousand and twenty acres of Natural Area by 2020. 

Why not, after all this a Burnham plan!

How will we do it?  

As I said earlier, we are the stewards for the now and the future.  Tough decisions will be made to better our great city.

Still folks will challenge investments toward nature.  Questions like why are native plantings and tall grasses so important?  

Or, ok I get storm water management and trees, but bees and butterflies? 

Yes bees and butterflies are important!  

Make the short trip to Montrose beach this spring and witness the hundreds of species of birds migrating through our city-The colors and the sounds. 

You don’t need to leave Chicago to experience nature.  And while you’re at Montrose or someplace else outdoors, slow down, breathe easy, lower your blood pressure and enjoy the respite of nature.  

Natural areas are for the birds and bees, but they are also for us, improving our own health and wellness because when we take care of nature, it in turn takes care of us! 

All the same, if you are someone who wants outdoor activity to raise your heartrate.  COOL.  We have something for that as well.  

Over the last two years, we’ve built nature play spaces at Welles Park, Cornell Square, Garfield Conservatory, and West Ridge.  We will open five more later this year.  What’s a nature play space?  Think playgrounds with natural materials such as logs, rocks, and dirt.

And for the adults.  If you hike, bike or climb.  You must check out the eco-recreation explosion on the Southeast side.  Hundreds of acres are being developed as we speak.  Areas that were booming during Roosevelt’s era, later rusted and forgotten, now transform into outdoor recreation.  

We will open a massive climbing wall at Steelworkers Park later this year. 

And we are building new trails at parks like Marion Byrnes.  

And lastly, the bike park at Big Marsh is slowly becoming tops in the country.  And I must thank Ford for their generous patience and partnership as we open the FORD Calumet Environmental Center this fall.   

So in closing…  

You will see facilities like this, being built throughout Chicago.  

It’s a great time to be a kid.  

And please, get out this spring and enjoy your parks.

Visit the lakefront and stroll along the river. 

We are Building on Burnham and it’s an exciting time to live in Chicago. 

Thank you.

To read the press release and view the entire presentation, click here.