Arts and Recreation Center at Ellis Park opens 10 years after idea first planted August 1, 2016

A decade after identifying the need for a community facility in Chicago’s Oakwood Shores, IFF joined city leaders and residents for the grand opening last month of the Arts and Recreation Center at Ellis Park.

The recommendation for a center in this area came from a 2006 IFF report, Stepping Out, commissioned by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Now, over 50,000 residents from Bronzeville and other nearby neighborhoods will have access to much-needed health and wellness services, recreational activities, and arts programs in a facility that includes a full-size gym, an indoor pool, a fitness center, and multi-use space.

“IFF is committed to ensuring neighborhoods in need have strong anchors, and it’s gratifying to see one we envisioned 10 years ago along with community members finally come to fruition,” IFF CEO Joe Neri said. “We know from our research that the arts, recreation, and sports bring people together. We’re thrilled to be able to support residents’ efforts to lead healthy, active lifestyles without traveling far from home.”

Early on in the planning stages, IFF held community meetings and made an $875,000 predevelopment loan to get the project going. Additionally, IFF provided $1.5 million in financing and $6 million in new markets tax credits for the $17.5 million facility.

The project was a partnership among the Chicago Park District, the Chicago Housing Authority, and The Community Builders. Additional tax credits came from The Community Builders and equity investor JPMorgan Chase. Other financing sources include the CHA and tax increment financing district funds.

The Bronzeville community lacked an indoor public swimming pool and lost a field house when the Wells-Madden housing projects just southwest of the center were razed to make way for Oakwood Shores.

A large, mixed-income housing development partly being financed by IFF, Oakwood Shores is part of the CHA’s Plan for Transformation, a redevelopment effort to revamp public housing and strengthen communities. The Community Builders and Quad Communities Development Corp. are helming the housing project.

IFF’s analysis of the area started in December 2003 with a MacArthur Foundation grant to assess the need for community facilities in Oakwood Shores and eight other Plan for Transformation sites. Stepping Out, IFF’s report and second phase of work on this project, had recommendations for developing community facilities in Chicago’s south and west sides.

Stepping Out included case studies of unique community facilities in other major cities including Washington, D.C., and Atlanta, GA — and Bernita Johnson-Gabriel, who spoke at the recent grand opening in her role as executive director of Quad Communities Development Corp., had accompanied IFF on trips to visit these centers to gather information and ideas for the report.

“When we worked with IFF 10 years ago in determining what type of arts and recreation center we needed, we knew we did not want a typical Chicago Park District field house,” Johnson-Gabriel said. “This public-private partnership is an unusual project for the district, and they stretched themselves in terms of incorporating arts and culture. It’s really hats off to the park district and the Chicago Housing Authority. This is a state-of-the-art facility that’s second to none.”

The center at Ellis Park is also part of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Building on Burnham plan to bring arts and recreation to Chicago neighborhoods and invest in the city’s parks and open spaces.

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