Active use for Arrigo Park cause for concern
March 4, 2017

With Arrigo Park having been an oasis of peace in the city for decades, some are concerned about efforts to add sports programs to the park. (Photo by Mark J. Valentino)

By Susan S. Stevens

Decades ago, six-acre Victor Arrigo Park contained two baseball diamonds and was considered an “active” park used for sports and recreation. Then the Chicago Park District turned it into a “passive” park known for its landscaping; some in the community considered it a buffer between public housing to the south and higher-income homes to the north.

The public housing projects are gone, their former locations now empty lots. The park with its peanut-shaped walking path is relatively quiet, used by joggers, dog walkers, and families with children in strollers. The only games are those played by children from the Urban Prairie Waldorf School. The six-acre wooded park also contains a fountain and a statue of Christopher
Columbus near its western boundary.

Should the park remain passive or return to being active? Some say the park serves the community well as it is now: an oasis of trees in the middle of the urban Near West Side. Others say Arrigo at 801 S. Loomis St. could better serve the community with some organized sports, such as the lacrosse clinics conducted at Sheridan Park, 910 S. Aberdeen St.

The Sheridan Park Advisory Council, which oversees and makes recommendations about both parks, created an online survey to collect feedback about potential improvements to Arrigo. The survey also is gathering demographic information and ideas on what residents would like the council to focus on. The survey is available at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/VZH3KHS.

“Please feel free to pass along the link to others in the community or send us email addresses we should include going forward,” the council said. To reach the council directly, email spac910s@gmail.com.

Survey seeking information

The survey includes questions about improving the grass, preserving green space, allowing limited organized sports, and installing a fitness challenge circuit area as well as the need for more benches and picnic tables and a possible roller hockey rink. Lacrosse, a field game in which players use long-handled sticks with nets to catch, throw, and carry a ball, brought the active-passive park issue to light this winter after officials squeezed in an inaugural lacrosse clinic on Sheridan Park’s schedule.

Park leaders asked Chicago Park District officials to allow clinics at lightly used Arrigo Park; after three-plus months of waiting for a decision, they scheduled a second lacrosse season at Sheridan.

Up to 30 beginning lacrosse players will meet at Sheridan Park for 16 hours in sessions spread across mid-April through mid-June. “We had a good fall program,” said Doug Bartels, president of the Sheridan Park Advisory Council.

That success encouraged continuation this year. An independent group will run the clinics on Tuesdays, he said at a council meeting Feb. 6.

Park District spokeswoman Jessica Maxey-Faulkner said the lacrosse group will rent the Sheridan field for $80 an hour from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. “In reference to field rental at Arrigo Park, there has been no change in policy,” she said, so no organized sports are allowed. She gave no further explanation.

Because some residents support the passive nature of the park at Arrigo, including nearby neighbors such as O’Neill family, whose members live close to the park, the advisory council set up meetings to discuss better use of the park.

Mary Beth Howard, advisory council vice president, presented some tentative conclusions at the council meeting: improve drainage of the Arrigo track and grassy field so they do not flood, preserve green space, make field usage multi-purpose, and limit organized sports.

Community conversation

This is “not set in stone,” Howard said. As Bartels explained, “We are just trying to facilitate a conversation,” noting that the online survey will add to the information being considered.

Bob O’Neill, president of the Grant Park Conservancy community group, said he would take care of the flooding and consult a landscaper about the poor-quality grass. His brother, Dennis O’Neill, executive director of the Connecting 4 Communities group, said he would seek Chicago Housing Authority permission to use its vacant land south of Arrigo—land already being used for team practices by Saint Ignatius College Prep and the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Dennis O’Neill said “it is a possibility” the CHA would let that land remain a park if community members approved higher buildings in the Roosevelt Square redevelopment. Current area residents forced developers to call off plans for two mid-rise buildings several years ago. Martin Murphy, supervisor of Sheridan and Arrigo for more than 13 years, said, “The neighborhood is changing. Sports participants are moving in with families.” He has 105 ongoing programs, a number he hopes to increase in the field house, and 4.57 acres of Sheridan Park, and perhaps at Arrigo, too He also noted that a soccer group wants field time for a “huge program.”

On a weather record Saturday in February, 70 degrees and sunny, about two dozen people relaxed in Arrigo Park. A few played catch, a trio played Frisbee, two rode bicycles, two others walked dogs, and several others sat and basked in the sunshine.

Asked whether Arrigo should remain the same, college student and Frisbee player Jake Rzeszutko said, “I like it the way it is.” A friend, Brian Flynn, said, “I can see both aspects.”

Maureen Sturman, a 30-year resident of the area, sat at the base of a tree with her two daughters. “We like it like this,” Sturman said. “It still supports sports in a less scheduled
way. You do not have to compete.”

“The main grassy area is unused most of the time,” Jackie Buckley noted as she sat with two college friends on a blanket. Informal sports such as soccer and kickball would be good additions, Henan Rosas said.

To contact Sheridan Park about its programs and about Arrigo Park, call (312) 746-5369.