Highlights include the launch of a robust strategic planning process, support for families, increased investment in youth opportunities, and longstanding neighborhood capital projects
Chicago Park District General Superintendent and CEO Rosa Escareño will present the 2024 Budget recommendations to the Board of Commissioners on Wednesday, November 15 at 11 a.m. at the Park District headquarters, located at 4830 S. Western Avenue. The $574.4 million Budget is available for viewing on the Chicago Park District’s website, and is responsive to the feedback received from Chicago residents during an extensive, amplified community engagement process that included a total of six in-person and virtual meetings with residents, community stakeholders, teens, volunteers, and partners.
The 2024 financial plan prioritizes supporting Chicago residents by maintaining park programs affordable and accessible, hiring additional employees to bolster robust, quality programming, and reinforcing our role as environmental stewards. These goals are further reinforced by the initiation of a strategic planning process that is being driven by community input. The Strategic Plan will re-imagine the District’s future with a focus on equity.
“The 2024 budget invests in a new strategic plan that will guide the next phase of the District’s future, and position Chicago parks as essential cornerstones of the quality of life in the City of Chicago,” said Chicago Park District General Superintendent & CEO Rosa Escareño. “This will be the first comprehensive strategic plan undertaken since 2012 that will focus on providing equitable access to resources and experiences for all Chicagoans.”
“From investments in families to neighborhood capital projects, each priority proposed in the 2024 financial plan targets a critical area of need that was identified by park users and community stakeholders during a comprehensive community engagement process,” added Escareño. “Collectively, these investments work towards connecting our residents to all of the resources that are available to them in our parks.”
This Budget highlights the launch of the Park Project Fund and the Park Enhancement Fund, two innovative investment strategies focused on making park service improvements and increasing connectivity between Chicagoans and park resources.
Additional key investments in the District’s 2024 Budget include the following:
Investing in Families and Equity: The 2024 Budget will make strategic service investments in our park system to provide equitable, affordable access to programming for all residents. The Chicago Park District remains committed to ensuring that programs remain accessible in the coming year. To that end, Chicago Park District programs will remain below pre-pandemic amounts, while holding the line on property taxes. In 2024, families in need will also be able to access $3 million in financial assistance to attend vital park programs, including Summer Day Camp and Park Kids after-school programming. This fund will allow the District to continue to offer affordable programming options to 1 out of every 5 kids in need of financial assistance.
In addition to ensuring that no child is turned away for inability to pay for programming, an investment of $8 million in Chicago Recovery Plan (CRP) funds will uphold this Budget’s focus on equity citywide by installing free, public Wi-Fi in parks located in areas of need of reliable broadband infrastructure. This multi-year project started in 2023, and has implemented Wi-Fi at South Shore Cultural Center, Garfield Park, Columbus Park, Austin Town Hall Park, Gately Track Park, and Foster Park, and will continue to expand to 54 parks in 2024.
Next year, the District will continue to invest CRP funds, another $27.6 million in total, in valuable projects that will uplift the quality of life of residents, including the construction of 200 additional pickleball courts throughout the city by 2025, and a total of 50 popular water spray features as part of our Chicago Splash! initiative.
Building a Stronger Workforce and Teen Engagement: This Budget underscores the importance of a strong workforce by adding a total of 82 full-time positions in areas of need, and allocating $184 million in wages and compensation. As the City’s largest direct employer of youth and lead provider of recreational activities in Illinois, investing in employment and programming opportunities for teens is a key priority for this Budget.
With support from $1.8 million in Mayor Johnson’s American Rescue Plan Act funding, the District will hire an additional 350 teens for summer employment in 2024. In addition, funding will be allocated to add 10 teen engagement ambassador positions, and a year-round activities instructor position to inform and reimagine teen-focused programs throughout the District, including our teen centers. Teen centers provide safe and engaging spaces for teens to convene and socialize at 11 parks across the city, including Hamilton, Columbus, Archer and Loyola Parks.
To cultivate new talent pipelines specifically for lifeguard recruitment, and allow youth to explore careers in public service and learn life-saving skills, this budget provides a stipend for lifeguard training and certification classes and expands free swim classes in priority communities. These investments advance Mayor Johnson’s citywide strategy to connect youth from all neighborhoods to enriching experiences that allow them to explore their interests, and build pathways to productive futures.
Furthermore, we will broaden our programming offerings and increase opportunities for our senior population with special events and activities, including fitness classes, instructional sports for beginners, and dedicated gymnasium time for pickleball, among other offerings. To provide enriching experiences for our youth in our parks, we will introduce youth sailboat racing classes and adaptive sailing events, as well as extend the length of the Junior Bike Ambassador program. This youth-focused initiative, offered in partnership with the Chicago Department of Transportation, is focused on teaching bicycle skills and pedestrian safety to 6- to 12-year-olds citywide.
Safeguarding Healthy Parks: As we ramp up our workforce, the District is committed to ensuring a safe recreation environment for all patrons and employees by investing in 20 full-time security positions. These new employment opportunities will attract highly trained officers to assist with de-escalation and safeguarding of parks as well as creating welcoming spaces for all Chicagoans to achieve healthier lifestyles.
Focusing on Sustainability: The District, with support from TIF dollars, and federal, state and private grants, is investing in what matters- building strong, resilient communities citywide. After record flooding, and air pollution levels in and around Chicago this summer, the upkeep of our 250,000 trees in parks citywide is more important than ever.
This Budget provides for six, new in-house “green jobs” focused on trimming and pruning trees to improve the resiliency our tree canopy within a 5-year cycle. In response to the growing need to update water features and enhance water conservation, the District will also dedicate an in-house team to expedite full remediation of lead service lines within the next 5-years.
Creating Innovative Investments in Capital Projects: With nearly 9,000 acres of green space in over 600 parks, the District is dedicated to providing safe, inviting and beautifully maintained parks and facilities for all Chicagoans. To keep this mission in motion, the 2024 Budget will allot funds for critical capital infrastructure development across the city.
In the coming year, the District will invest $4 million in the Park Project Fund, a new revenue source dedicated to addressing long-standing, small-scope park capital projects, including investments to water fountains, windows and doors, concrete stairs, pathways, and other park improvements. Moreover, the creation of this Fund will provide the District with the opportunity to increase and diversify MBE/WBE small-business engagement and participation in localized projects.
In conjunction with the creation of this Fund, the District will also eliminate architectural barriers to accessing park programs and voting sites by investing $10 million in ADA capital improvements at more than 100 park fieldhouses. These park buildings will be equipped with elements including new ramps, paved walkways, restrooms, elevators, and additional interior advancements that make parks accessible to residents of all backgrounds, abilities, ages and interests.
The 2024 Budget recommendations includes $149 million over the next five years in active and future capital investments in our park buildings for projects including cultural center upgrades at Austin Town Hall, Douglass Park, Garfield Park, Humboldt Park and Ridge Park, and major renovations of fieldhouses at Blackhawk Park, Clarendon Park, Kelvyn Park, Pulaski Park, and Riis Park. Improvements range from roof replacement, masonry and tuckpointing, window restorations, restroom upgrades and a variety of access improvements. By restoring our District fieldhouses and cultural centers, the District is investing in the continuity of robust park programming year-round at 250 park sites across the city.
Additional capital construction projects that are in progress, include three new community fieldhouses at Cragin Park in the Belmont-Cragin Community, and Jackie Robinson Park in the Washington Heights Community.
Construction on the highly anticipated fieldhouse in Cragin Park, located in the Belmont-Cragin community, will be completed in 2024. The facility will feature much-needed park spaces to meet growing demand for indoor programming. The new single-story fieldhouse, backed by $7.1 million in TIF funding, includes a half-size gymnasium with the capability to transform into two clubrooms to allow for flexibility of use of the multi-purpose space.
The construction of the new fieldhouse at Jackie Robinson Park will begin in 2024. The 18,000 square foot community facility will include a full-sized gymnasium, two multipurpose clubrooms, a fitness center, teen room, restrooms, offices, and lobby. Funded through a $15 million grant from the State, the fieldhouse will also feature art and historic representation in honor of its namesake, the first Black professional baseball player, Jackie Robinson.
At Austin Town Hall Park, the planned improvements to the cultural center will include stage and auditorium floor, lighting, sound and stage accessibility renovations. These professional upgrades to the theater and performance spaces will create opportunities for enhanced experiences, and support access to new, exciting cultural events in the park.
The 2024 Budget will also allow the District to move forward with other capital investments, including updating our outdated electrical infrastructure, and improving natural habitats including major riverbank restoration at Kiwanis Park, Legion Park, and Ronan Park along the Chicago River. The design work is also underway for the section of the lakefront revetment at Morgan Shoal, a multi-year capital project between 45th and 51st in partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the City of Chicago.
The investments in many of our capital projects are driven by community input, which was the impetus for the launch of the Park Enhancement Fund, an innovative use of funds to benefit neighborhood parks that host large, multi-day events. In 2024, parks hosting multi-day events with 3,000 or more guests will receive 10 percent in direct re-investment of permit fees collected from each event in addition to general capital dollars and park restoration fees. This fund is expected to generate nearly half a million dollars to support local park improvement projects.
Improving Connectivity: Other 2024 budget highlights include investments in improving connectivity with our park users by streamlining our user intake and feedback system, and redesigning the District’s website to feature a mobile-friendly interface and elevated content.
The Chicago Park District, like many other agencies, is ramping-up programming, and will propose an increase to non-program fees to help support vital park operations into the future, while maintaining our reliance on the prior year fund balance at zero. The Budget includes a modest fee increase to Summer Day Camp for higher median income households. These minimal fees continue to be well below pre-pandemic amounts, but will help subsidize increases in operational program costs.
Harbor fees will increase by 2% with an average cost of $87 for boaters, and parking rates will remain at $2 for the first hour with subsequent $1 increases based on length of stay. To support an upsurge in the operational costs of our six golf courses and three driving ranges, the District will increase fees by $1 in 2023 at three of our busiest locations and at the Diversey Driving Range. Prior to 2023, golf prices remained static for 5 years. Costs will remain unchanged at Columbus, Marquette and South Shore golfing facilities, and Marquette and Jackson Driving Ranges.
The Chicago Park District’s 2024 budget recommendations can be viewed online at www.chicagoparkdistrict.com/annual-budget-process.