The Chicago City Council voted on March 24 to authorize using a total of $610,000 in Tax Increment Financing district funding to pay for improvements in Clark Park, 4615 W. Jackson Blvd. and Amundsen Park, 6200 W. Bloomingdale Ave. 

Clark Park pool, which is popular with local families because it’s shallow enough for kids to play in, will get new water filters, and its pipes will be refurbished or replaced in order to stop leaks. The pool deck will be repaired and the pool grounds will get a new fence.  

Amundsen Park playground will get ADA accessibility improvements, its soft surfaces will be replaced and some playground equipment will be replaced or upgraded.

The TIF funds will cover the full costs of both projects. The City Council’s Committee on Finance unanimously approved the payments on March 22 and the full council approved it as part of a larger package of ordinances.

When a TIF is created, the amount that the Chicago Park District and other government bodies collect in property taxes is frozen. When the taxes go up, the extra money is instead deposited into a TIF fund for the ostensible purposes of supporting development that results in higher property values. The higher values are supposed to make up for the lost tax revenue. 

According to a 2020 case study by the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis, a think tank based in New York City, TIFs disproportionately benefit neighborhoods that are already well off.  

The funding for the Clark Park pool renovations will come from the Midwest TIF, which collected around $17.3 million in revenue in 2019, the most recent year for which the data is available. 

The funding for Amundsen Park playground renovations will come from Galewood/Armitage Industrial TIF, which collected $5.8 million in 2019.

The pool project will cost $500,000, with $425,000 going toward the pool repairs and improvements, and $75,000 paying for pool grounds improvements.

Beth O’Reilly, the park district’s deputy budget director, told the finance committee that the pool was a rarity within the Chicago parks system. A few years ago, she said, the park district proposed replacing the pool with “an interactive water feature,” but the community opposition was so fierce that district officials backed off the idea.

“It’s sort of a wading pool, but the community loves it,” O’Reilly said. “It needs a whole lot of love.”

Ald. Michael Scott (24th), who was the park district area manager for a region that includes the West Side before he became an alderman, said he is familiar with the pool from his previous job. Because the park is located across the street from a small section of his ward that falls within Austin, he still hears about it from his constituents.

“I know that a lot of folks in the community love and use that park [and that] the work is very necessary,” Scott said. “[The pool has] been in disrepair for, I would say, the last 15 years. “

O’Reilly said that the Amundsen Park improvements are part of a park district-wide effort to update or replace playground equipment “that’s been vandalized or just sort of past its useful life.”  They will cost $110,000, with $100,000 paying for playground equipment and $10,000 covering other improvements. 

Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), whose ward includes the park, described the proposed playground upgrades as just the latest in the series of Amundsen Park improvements he and his predecessor, Ald. Deborah Graham, have supported. 

In 2014, the park district got $2.85 million from Galewood/Armitage TIF to improve and restore the park’s athletic turf field, baseball field and running track. 

“This is a wonderful park and we’ve been improving this park, not only the field house, but the outdoor playground,” Taliaferro said. 

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...