Parking regs in South Loop undergoing change
March 1, 2019

Photo courtesy DePaul University
Officials eased street parking restrictions around Wintrust Arena after anticipated problems did not materialize.

By Rick Romano

Parking regulations in the South Loop/Near South area of the 3rd and 4th Wards are in various stages of change.

Those changes follow Wintrust Arena’s initial impact on the area and an ongoing parking and traffic assessment related to Soldier Field events.

3rd Ward and Wintrust

Josh Ellis, a local resident, board member of the Greater South Loop Association, and vice president of the Metropolitan Planning Council, said Wintrust Arena’s anticipated parking impact on the community has not materialized.

“The Wintrust parking regulations were put into place in anticipation that the games” at Wintrust Arena “would generate a lot more street parking, but that is not what has played out,” Ellis said. “It appears that ride sharing and transit use have taken place.”

Tina Feldstein, president of the Prairie District Neighborhood Alliance, agreed, saying the Wintrust Arena apparently does not attract as large a crowd for events as anticipated.

“That may change in the future, but it seems street parking is not affected in any major way,” she said.

McCormick Place parking lots so far have alleviated the need for street parking, said Dave Kennedy, assistant general manager of Wintrust. He noted McCormick Parking has been handling a bulk of parking needs, adding that the facility’s overflow lots B and C on each side of Lake Shore Drive also can be tapped as needed.

“We know that having more than one event at a time in the area such as the Auto Show along with a popular DePaul game such as one against Marquette could be challenging,” Kennedy said. “But so far we are not seeing street parking. Some manufacturing shows that coincide with our [Wintrust] events bring people in by chartered buses from the downtown hotels. In general, There seems that fewer people are driving” to those events.

Kennedy noted that Wintrust will monitor the situation and work with the community and aldermanic offices as needed.

“We want to have as positive an impact as possible,” he said.   

Brian Freedman, director of education and social services for 3rd Ward Alderman Pat Dowell, provided a statement outlining parking changes that also resulted from numerous community meetings with residents and businesses.

He noted changes that lift restrictions for the area around Wintrust.

“The changes made were two-fold,” he said. “First, Alderman Dowell removed all Wintrust Arena events from the Soldier Field Event Parking Program. This means that people parking in the South Loop during Wintrust events do not have to display a Soldier Field Event Parking Pass or guest pass to park in the area. Second, Alderman Dowell reduced the size of the Soldier Field Event Parking Zone on the southern boundary from I-55 [the Stevenson Expressway] to Cermak Road.

“The office was informed by businesses and residents between I-55 and Cermak Road. that they are simply too far from Soldier Field to see any effect on parking during event days,” Freedman said. “These changes were made by ordinance.”

Community input

“After a trial period where Wintrust Arena events were added to the existing Soldier Field Event Parking Program for the South Loop—no parking two hours before and one hour after events—Alderman Dowell went back to the community to see how the restrictions were working,” Freedman said “After multiple community meetings and countless emails, phone calls, and discussions with residents and businesses, the community made it clear that adding Wintrust Arena events to the existing Soldier Field Event Parking Program was too burdensome.

“In addition, the neighborhood simply wasn’t seeing the increase in traffic and parking associated with Wintrust Arena events needed to warrant their inclusion in the Soldier Field Event Parking Program. So, Alderman Dowell removed those events from the parking program, returning the restrictions to Soldier Field events only,” Freedman added.

Since then, Dowell’s office has received “positive feedback regarding the change and has not received outreach advocating for adding Wintrust Arena events back into the program,” Freedman said.

Ellis called the new parking regulations “welcome changes.”

Freedman also noted Dowell’s office is distributing one-day passes to South Loop businesses and churches to give to their customers and congregations to park in the area.

Businesses write the driver’s name and address at the top of the pass and add the date in the middle before distributing, and drivers put the pass in their vehicles while parked.

“Previously, customers were given a reusable Soldier Field Event Guest Pass, and businesses were required to get those passes back from customers when they were finished in the store,” he said. “That proved to be entirely too difficult for businesses and customers. These new passes can be used for the day and then thrown away when finished.”

4th Ward view

Prentice Butler, chief of staff for 4th Ward Alderman Sophia King, said King is working on a proposal to create as many as 51 parking spaces near Roosevelt Road on South State Street, South Federal Street, and South Plymouth Court as well as easing parking restrictions throughout the area. The key is working with parking company LAZ to provide more free street parking at an earlier overnight period.

“There are a lot more mixed-use buildings, so that means more density in the area, and not everyone wants to pay for parking garages,” Butler said. “So, we are trying to provide more options. We need to do studies, provide some options, and make a proposal that will go through   neighborhood input and the City approval process before it can be implemented.”

Feldstein of Prairie District Neighborhood Alliance wants an approach that includes ending use of Columbus Drive as a staging area for large Soldier Field events because it creates parking and traffic problems in the adjoining 3rd Ward.

“Technically, Alderman King does not represent us,” in the 3rd Ward, “but everything they do in the 4th Ward affects us,” Feldstein said.

The bicycle factor

Bicycle lanes may factor into planning parking throughout South Loop, though little information is available. Although there were concerns expressed at a recent town hall meeting that the Chicago Department of Transportation was considering scrapping the bicycle lanes idea, Butler said that will not happen and that King’s office still is working with CDOT on bicycle lanes.

“The concern was the configuration of the bike lanes and the net impact they have on the surrounding areas in the community,” Butler said, adding he could not provide more details or explanation at this time.

To contact Dowell’s office, call (773) 373-9273. For the Greater South Loop Association, log on to https://greatersouthloop.org. To contact King’s office, call (773) 536-8103. For the Prairie District Neighborhood Alliance, log on to www.pdnachicago.com.