Monday, September 20, 2010

Prairie Pointe Park Plaza Plan

If you live in the South Loop you may have heard something about the plans Prairie Pointe at Central Station have for the park at16th St. and S. Indiana Ave.

View of park at the corner of 16th St. and S. Indiana

When Prairie Pointe took control of the building management in 2006, they also took control of the 16th St. park. A park that was not completed by the developer, as originally promised. The responsibility for developing and maintaining the space then fell to the owners of Prairie Pointe.

View from inside the park facing west
In an attempt to look for a solution Prairie Pointe reached out to the Chicago Park District. Prairie Pointe board president, Jeff Key said that the response from the CPD was, “they had no immediate plans to acquire” the park. Prairie Pointe is now faced with annual maintenance costs of $35,000.

United Service Companies offices are in the Penthouse Lofts at 1550 S. Indiana Ave.
United Service Companies located at 1550 S. Indiana Ave. was looking for a solution to a parking problem. Medical offices located in the Penthouse Lofts (the same location of the USC offices) wanted convenient parking for their patients. USC approached Prairie Pointe about turning the park into a parking lot. Prairie Pointe said no. USC approached the association several more times, but Prairie Pointe still said no. USC was persistent and asked what would they have to do to strike some kind of a deal. And then Prairie Pointe suggested the park plaza idea, not expecting USC to consider it.

Artist rending of the park plaza proposed by Prairie Pointe  
Remarkably, according to Key, USC agreed to the Prairie Pointe plan. The plan, if approved, could be a model for future public-private partnerships. While Prairie Pointe is still the owner and ultimately responsible for the park, USC will maintain it. The result: Prairie Pointe saves thousands of dollars a year in costs and the neighborhood gets a well-maintained multi-use park.

The medical practice at 1550 S. Indiana is looking for convenient parking for their patients.
The planned park plaza will take up a relatively small space (approximately 15% of the existing park). Additionally, the parking will be recessed to help diminish the plaza’s profile to pedestrian traffic. This diminishing affect will be enhanced by steel pergola structures for growing vines, eventually creating a green canopy over the plaza area.

The park plaza will have space for approximately 22 cars. Parking will be for physicians and patients on weekdays. The park plaza could be used as a special event space available to the public on weekends. However, Key was quick to point out that “the plaza will never be available for tailgating.”

In addition to the parking, the plan includes landscaping with trees, shrubs, and flowers, an irrigation system, lamppost lighting, park benches, and a water feature/sculpture in the center of the park.The details of the plan were presented at an open meeting of the Greater South Loop Association (GSLA) on July 17, 2010. The plan was also presented to other community organizations.

To read FOTP endorsement, click here.
The plan has been endorsed by Friends of the Parks. According to their Facebook page, they are “a non-profit park advocacy organization, dedicated to preserving, protecting, and improving Chicago's parks and forest preserves for all citizens.” FOTP was founded in 1975. Local realtor, Eve Kronen, upon reviewing the plan said it “reads like a very good investment for the neighborhood. [It] has all the elements of a good solid plan.”

To learn more about the Prairie Pointe Park Plaza, and other issues facing the Second Ward, come to the Community Meeting on Wednesday September 22, 2010 at 6:30 p.m. The meeting will take place at 1st District Police station Community Room, 1718 S. State St.


  1. "Is now faced"? So is the Mr Key, saying that if this does not go through, that they will not maintain the park as required? Did people suddenly not know they were buying a condo that had a park that required maintenance? Isn't that what a budget is for?

    Based on the information I have read over the weekend, they knew it was zoned a park, knew as an association they would be required to maintain it, knew that parking lot is not allowed ever, so now it needs to be turned over for free to a developer to build a parking lot?

  2. Dear Anonymous,

    No one is getting anything for free. Prairie Point is ultimately responsible as the blog post states, they will be paying taxes and holding insurance, whether the plan is approved or not. The developer was to deliver the association a park; it didn't. The costs to develop it as it now is fell on the association. Not something they budgeted for. They maintain the park, clean it, clean up after all neighborhood dog owners,not just those from PP, and so on. The CPD doesn't want to manage it, as promised. The Friends of the Park approves plan, as do other organizations and citizens; it provides an upgraded park for the whole community to use. A small part will be used for parking. If you're interested in hearing the whole story and voicing your opinion in public, please attend Wednesday's meeting.

  3. I think the plan that was proposed looks great and is good for neighborhood and the condo association. I saw a survey sent out by the PDNA that was biased, slanted and designed to sway the reader to be against the project. I know that a meeting with the Alderman is scheduled for this Wednesday...I sure hope he sees through that survey.

  4. I saw the PDNA survey too and thought that is wasn't fair to the condo association. Besides, who are they to tell someone what to do with private property. The PDNA should stick to kids parties.

  5. I agree. I read through the survey last week and while I was impressed the amount of research and work someone put into it, it was very biased against the project. I'm still not sure how I feel personally, but it does seem like the design is a nice compomise.

  6. This is a great plan that will assist the patients seeking treatment, provide a public plaza and build a beautiful open space out of an otherwise vacant lot. It will increase the value of all our homes without any public funding. Why would anyone oppose this?

  7. Interesting that we had to be told by others that the Condo Board Members that were leading the project proposal are also Board members at the GSLA and the Friends of the Park, where the letters of support came from. Is that stated in the letters of support. I bet $5 it's not. Seems like the people with the bias are the ones trying to do this whole deal behind closed doors.

    Interesting that we had to learn from the survey that the Park land was paid for by TIF Funds for strict use as a park. Was that presented to the 12 people at the GSLA Meeting?

    If it is such a great deal, why doesn't the guy building the parking lot refund the TIF money for the land value then? Seems like the taxpaying community and the PP Association are getting the very short end of the stick with the proposal. A public park now, that in the future, you do not get to use, although TIF money payed for the land.

  8. As a South Loop condo board member, I for one would love to have the support and interest of a business to facilitate a project like this that provides a maintained open space to residents. With so many of our commercial spaces unrented in the South Loop, we as a community need to support local businesses and residents alike. This is a win win for all parties.
    If I'm not mistaken, the naming of Park 550 is also on the meeting agenda for Wednesday evening. Why would we need another CPD area within 2 blocks of Park 550? Perhaps this is why the CPD declined to take over the land. Doesn't PDNA already sit on the advisory board for Park 550? Don’t the 3 park names they have limited to in the survey begin with “Prairie District”? The survey and materials PDNA distributed about this issue do not serve the community well. The function of a neighborhood organization is to be a neutral sounding board for issues and they did not provide the community with facts. I'm glad to see other South Loop residents taking the lead to set the facts straight. This blog is "pro" South Loop and a great resource. Well done!

  9. CPD has not declined to take over the park, that is a bit misleading. At issue is the TIF task force formal approval and legal work of transfer of the 15th & Prairie park.

  10. The 2:33 PM comment is correct. CPD has not declined to take over the park, but they have expressed "no immediate interest" as stated in the blog post. I'm sure the matter of the TIF issue will be addressed this Wednesday. For the record, the park in question is at 16th and S. Indiana.

  11. Okay, so the developer used TIF money to develop the condo project and park. Then the condo building and park were turned over to the homeowners and today are managed by their homeowner’s association. Now the homeowner’s association wants to improve the property, add parking for an existing medical office, while maintaining a significant and much improved park space. Sounds like the TIF money did exactly what it is suppose to do, see the Wikipedia definition, below:

    “TIF is a method to use future gains in taxes to finance current improvements (which theoretically will create the conditions for those future gains). When a development or public project is carried out, there is often an increase in the value of surrounding real estate, and perhaps new investment (new or rehabilitated buildings, for example).
    This increased site value and investment sometimes generates increased tax revenues. The increased tax revenues are the "tax increment." Tax Increment Financing dedicates tax increments within a certain defined district to finance debt issued to pay for the project. TIF is designed to channel funding toward improvements in distressed or underdeveloped areas where development might not otherwise occur.”

    No TIF money to the developer = no condo building. No condo building = no homeowners paying real estate taxes and homeowners living in area, shopping locally and spending money, paying more sales taxes.

    I think most people would agree that 10 years ago, or so, the South Loop and 16th and Indiana would have been considered a distressed or underdeveloped area. Now you have a thriving community, a condo association who is taking care of their own business and NOT looking for a handout to fix their problem.

    Why is this an issue? Seems like a win-win, especially for the tax paying public. But also for the neighborhood that will gain a couple of parking spaces and have a better and well maintained new park.

  12. The present park is an eyesore. As I understand it the park is private propery. The park district has no interest in taking over the park. I don't understand how anyone could be against the proposal. if you look at the plans the parking spaces occupy only 15% of the land, with a beautiful rendering to occupy the rest of the space. It seems a win win situtation.

  13. Some posting rules of the road: I want the comments to be free and diverse, but if you're going to post a link to a survey or anything else as an anonymous commenter, your comments links, etc. will be removed.

    If you identify yourself, your comments and/or links will stay.

  14. Anonymous September 20, 2010 5:15 PM - if I am reading this correct, it not as simple as that. From what I read from the removed link, the zoning for the park is for park only, with specific city legal restrictions not allowing parking. It appears that this is done to save ourselves from ourselves with regard to open space and not thinking long term. Also, the building density allowed through FAR Bonus relates to the sq footage of open space built or fees paid. Take credit for providing it, then turnaround and get rid of it or sell it? Very Illinois-like.

    I think the point to the above comments is that regardless what may seem nice to you or I, a 5 minute meeting with a legitimate zoning attorney by the association in its due diligence would have uncovered the same information. If this happened in my condo association, I would be pretty po'd now that basic zoning issues were not researched that would not have wasted my homeowners association time and money when this could have been in the CPD inventory by now.

  15. Contrary to one of "annonymous" posts, in fact the plan for this public - private partnership to beautify an entire park and create a unique multi-use plaza on a small protion of it, a plaza that could be used by the community for special events, was presented on three (3) separate occaisions to the PDNA at their "open" meetings. At each presentation, there were no objections from anyone in attendance. However, it bears noting that the PDNA never invited Prairie Pointe to present their side, and in each instance PDNA was surprised that the condo board showed up to openly discuss the true facts and circumstances. I in fact made each of those presentations.

  16. In addition, this plan was presented at 2 separate, open, public GSLA meetings, to the Board of Friends of the Parks, and to the boards of neighboring buildings. Just for the record. Moreover, while I am an active member of the GSLA, I had no vote whatsoever on their position, and the insinuation by yet another "annonymous" post that anyone acted improperly is, quite frankly, an outrage. If you think there was an impropriety, then ID yourself and come forward with facts.

  17. Mr Key, I am not sure why you continue your your distortion of facts and leaving out simple zoning issues. At no point did you present any RENDERINGS or WRITTEN description of the proposed Parking lot to the PDNA. You have been contacted several times since 2008 and asked to provide a public presentation when you could provide renderings, plans, zoning information,etc. and you have failed to do so. You have repeatedly claimed there are no plans, there is only a 'concept'. The PDNA had to force this meeting with the ALDERMAN's office and get the renderings from them...

    That you claim that there were "no objections" to a review that never happened is troubling. I can't think of any group that would accept a developers word for it if they can't produce
    one written document, a rendering, drawings, zoning information, plans, etc. and call that community review or approval. The PDNA had to force this meeting with the ALDERMAN's office and get the renderings from them; your faux outrage is not fooling me or others.

    That your posts now try to divert attention from the facts, while leaving out important missing information about basic zoning & restrictions that would likely kill this project down the road is diservice to the residents and community, and troubling to many.

    I am not sure why you are blaming the PDNA for YOUR work on a proposal that lacks even basic review of Zoning requirements to do such a project, which then potentially misleads residents and community of what is actually legal and probable. Is it the PDNA's fault that the renderings you provided to the Alderman's office for a 'community review' incorrectly show the park 16 TIMES the actual size is? Is it the PDNA's fault you did not explain the park legal and zoning restrictions?

    The PDNA has attended Capital hearings, had conversations with the Park District in support of developing this parcel, if conveyed as originally planned, that would have alleviated this issue you are claiming is the problem.

    At no point has the Park District indicated to us that they did not want the property.

    So stop with the blame game, and do better.

  18. Mr. Jeff Ayersman: Thank you for finally identifying yourself. The facts speak for themselves, and your attempts at distorting them are to no avail.

    As you know, we have asked numerous times for you and your partner Tina Feldstein to provide a full, open, transparent and public disclosure of who the PDNA actually is, what are your bylaws, and how does a community member vote for an official - and were you and Tina publicly elected, or merely founders who perpetually control the organization? You have refused to be open and transparent. Instead you attack anyone who opposes your views. Aggressively.

    We indicated that we needed to know, as a matter of due diligence, that you were a properly elected official of a legitimate organization before any further discussion took place, beyond our THREE presentations at your open meetings.

    Regarding the artwork, we did not have anything but rough draft artwork, which the Alderman's office requested. We were working on final art and did not know the drafts would be circulated. That is indeed unfortunate, but clearly no one thinks that the park is 400,000 sq. ft., and in fact the ammenities are all scaled to the park, even in the draft art you received. One cannot be "secret" about the size of an open peice of land, your hysteria notwithstanding.

    You and your partner are certainly free to have any opinion you like. You have always aggressively opposed our plan. Since we first told you of this plan several years ago you have campained against it. Your highly biased "survey" is an example. "Park or Parking Lot?" - honestly, that is the single biggest distortion I have ever seen, falsely leading people to beleive the entire park would be paved over. See picture above.

    The community is now waitinig for you and your partner to be transparent about the organization you two control. With all the good that the PDNA is capable of, your personal conduct can certainly be a disappointment.

  19. That is a good point Jeff Key...when did the PDNA start anyway? It has to have been years ago, and yet you always see the same two people Jeff Ayersman and Tina Feldstein running things. Shouldn't a non-for-profit neighborhood association hold elections and get some fresh new blood into that group. I know they do some good and have had some nice events, but it sure looks suspicious that they are always speaking for the group.

  20. Speaking for the group! How about speaking for the entire South Loop! That survey, put out by the PDNA was a joke! Jeff Ayersman and Tina Feldstein are entitled to their own opinions, but they are NOT entitled to the opinions of the entire South Loop. That survey and their organization should be investigated by the Alderman!

  21. It is sad that the residents of Prairie Pointe (myself included) probably found out 100000% more about this [behind-the-scenes] plan to do a parking meter/tollway-type lease from the PDNA than from their own condo board. Only after the PDNA posted their informative presentation online did Jeff finally send out a pathetic plea for support to the building (two days ago).

    I also do not see how the Prairie Pointe Board has the authority to enter into negotiations to change the zoning for the park. I have read the bylaws and the Board only has authority to transfer the park to the city and to maintain the park. Perhaps a vote by with the residents of Prairie Pointe prior the entire neighborhood becoming involved would have been appropriate...

  22. Dear Anonymous 6:52

    I also live at 1600 Prairie. I am well aware of the parking lot /park plans as I actually attend condo meetings. This plan has been presented at condo meetings on several occasions. There has been nothing behind the scenes about the plan. At the last meeting it was again persented and discussed.

    Do you actually attend meetings? or just prefer to criticize.

    Elizabeth O'Brien

  23. I have read the information on the proposal above and the added information sent out with the prepared information by the pdna survey, which was quite informative.

    After reading the comments here, a person can't help but shake their head at the irony of these Jeff Key comments and other anonymous friends, who are calling for transparency after another group issues a survey that appears to seek open community input and has actually openly informed others in the community of what is actually going on.

    "The lady doth protest too much, methinks"

  24. In regard to the "survey," before it should be considered valid, we need to know the following:

    Who wrote the survey? (the best surveys are written by third parties)
    Who administered the survey? (the above applies here as well)
    What was their sample (the amount of folks sent the survey; the demographics; was this just from the PDNA email list? Did they borrow lists from other community organizations to broaden the sample from their base?)
    Are duplicate IP addresses for the survey omitted? I could input my comments and feedback all day and skew the results, right?

    To Anon at 9:43pm 9/21 - the fact that you learned a lot about the issue from reading a survey reinforces the points I've made here. Learning about an issue while taking a survey defeats the purpose.

    The purpose of a survey is to get information from the responders. Not shape or try to persuade public opinion. Additionally, surveys should not have provocative titles, "Park or Parking Lot" reveals an immediate bias. Who wouldn't prefer a park over a parking lot?
    And lastly, for a survey to be truly useful and valid, the person taking the survey (especially in a matter such as this) shouldn't know who is sponsoring the poll. Knowing who the sponsor is affects the results. That is why marketers don't tell focus groups who the sponsoring company is; smart people can guess and surmise, but their responses are more likely to be "true."

  25. This just in...I did a survey of a significant amount of people and 100% think the PDNA should laughed out of the room tonight...

  26. I sympathize with the Prairie Pointe property owners, but I think this is a short-sighted solution.

    1. A 99 year lease is a long time to give to United Maintenance Services. I've lived for nine years in the neighborhood, and I've already seen three businesses located where the current medical office is located, with long periods for it being vacant. As new businesses move in, what might the parking lot be used for in the future? United Maintenance is the real winner here--they substantially increase the rent they will be able to charge for their commercial space (because of parking) at the expense of the park space.

    2. A lot of people seem to want to help the clinic's patients, and I can sympathize with that. But what type of Sport and Spine clinic would lease a space without parking facilities? They are a for-profit business--it is their responsibility to lease a space that is good for their customers. It's nice that neighbors want to be helpful, but they are just giving up a park to increase the profits of a business that not contribute substantially to the tax base (i.e., there is no sales tax being collected to go back into the community). I also don't support community solution that benefits one business (really two, including United Maintenance).

    3. What "special events" might be held in the space? Who would decide this? Special events tend to be loud (especially if music is played, and it almost always is). One of the reasons I moved to this neighborhood was for the peace and quiet. Also, who would profit from these events in a space that was zoned for the general public?

    4. To those who say that it is private property, it might be privately owned, but it is still zoned for public use and Prairie Pointe wouldn't have been built had the park not been one of the legal requirements. Once again, I understand that the owners were hurt by the developer, but that was the agreement. Many of us have been hurt by developers--I paid a nearly 10K special assessment for the poor construction on my place.

    I hope a solution can be found that benefits the neighborhood rather than just a few.

  27. touche to September 22, 2010 7:54 AM and September 22, 2010 9:27 PM (esp points #1 & #2).

  28. I know this is an issue that people are very passionate about, but please refrain from using name-calling or personal attacks with comments. I will remove comments that defame an individual or use offensive language.

    Thank you.


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