Today, Chicago Park District Interim General Superintendent Rosa Escareño presented the 2022 Operating Budget recommendations to the Board of Commissioners. The $510.9 million financial plan, which is available on the Chicago Park District’s website, represents the Park District’s promise to safely return to full service for Chicago’s residents. The balanced Operating Budget includes the return of all sports leagues, increases in teen programming and the expansion of recreation opportunities for youth and adults with special needs. The District is also redoubling its efforts to create and maintain safe recreational and work environments by funding the creation of a new Office of Protection. These highlights underscore the District’s commitment to the children and families of Chicago and Mayor Lightfoot’s promise to deliver resources to communities most in need.
“The 2022 budget reflects a balanced financial blueprint that meets the recreational needs of Chicago’s neighborhoods while guaranteeing a safe and respectable work and recreational environment,” said Chicago Park District Interim General Superintendent & CEO Rosa Escareño. “2022 will see new and expanded opportunities for children and families, continued investments in capital infrastructure and a dedication of resources to ensure we remain committed to the long-term recreational and workplace safety that our employees and patrons deserve.”
As Chicago families continue to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Park District is excited to ramp up programming to our full service levels. In the coming year, the Chicago Park District will invest $126 million to offer programs like Inner City Hoops, Girls Fast Pitch Softball and Junior Bears as well as Park Kids and Day Camp, all of which were greatly minimized or suspended due to the pandemic. This is an increase of $8 million from last year’s budgeted programming amount. In addition, new sports endeavors that had to be suspended due to the pandemic, such as the citywide wrestling program and Soccer for Success program, will begin in 2022. These programs provide invaluable options for enrichment to Chicago children and their families and will be offered at full capacity in alignment with CDC, State of Illinois and City of Chicago COVID guidelines.
In response to the growing interest in soccer among Chicago’s youth, the Chicago Park District, in partnership with the U.S. Soccer Foundation, will bring the “Soccer for Success” program to parks where soccer mini-pitches have been built. Programming for youth ages 6 to 12 will include soccer fundamentals, wellness and personal development. Like other organized sports, soccer promotes physical activity, critical thinking, teamwork and other principles that are valuable on and off the field. “Soccer for Success” will launch at 11 parks including locations in Englewood, Grand Crossing, Brighton Park and Eastside as part of after-school programming. The program will serve 1,000 children during its first year.
To create additional opportunities for teens, the Park District will launch TRACE’s multi-year Community Curatorial Fellowship. Teens will work with professional artists annually to create murals and think about curation within community contexts. The District also recently created teen centers that provide safe and engaging spaces for teens to gather and interact at ten parks across the city, including Washington, Archer and Blackhawk Parks.
These investments advance Mayor Lightfoot’s citywide strategy to connect youth from all neighborhoods to enriching experiences that allow them to explore their interests, develop passions and build pathways to productive futures.
The Chicago Park District remains committed to ensuring that programs remain accessible and affordable in the coming year. To that end, the Chicago Park District will not be increasing any program fees in 2022, even as programming greatly increases across the city. In 2022, families in need will also be able to access more than $2.8 million in financial assistance. No child will be excluded from programming due to a family’s inability to pay.
As we ramp up programming, the District is committed to ensuring a safe work and recreation environment for all patrons and employees. In 2022, the District will fund the newly created Office of Protection, which will empower and support employees who experience and/or witness workplace misconduct. The Office will be responsible for investigating all allegations of prohibited discrimination and harassment including sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, bullying, hazing, workplace violence, as well as child abuse and neglect. In conjunction with the creation of this Office, the District will also enhance our training to ensure that all employees are prepared to identify and prevent such misconduct into the future.
“Creating a safe, healthy and respectable work environment is of the utmost importance,” said Interim General Superintendent & CEO Escareno. “I am proud to support the creation of this Office and ensure that it is adequately funded to facilitate long-term cultural change and make certain that safety and respect are the highest priority of the Park District.”
With more than 8,800 acres of green space in over 600 parks, the Chicago Park District is dedicated to providing safe, inviting and beautifully maintained parks and facilities for all Chicagoans. To keep this mission moving forward, the 2022 Budget will allow the District to develop or improve critical capital infrastructure across the city. Working in conjunction with the City of Chicago, the District continues to make improvements to our 18 cultural centers. These centers serve as hubs of arts and culture within their respective neighborhoods, making programs like drama, dance and visual arts accessible and affordable to families. Based on a comprehensive program review of the centers conducted by the District, several cultural center projects will be moving through the design and construction phases in the upcoming year, including Austin Town Hall, Douglass and West Pullman Parks.
The 2022 Budget Recommendation includes capital investments for major renovations at Garfield Park. This will include improvements to the cultural center and additional features of the historic Gold Dome including a major renovation of the old, dilapidated powerhouse that will transform this unusable facility into a new industrial art center. The District, along with our programming partner, will operate an industrial artisan training center, studio and workspace. The historic music bandstand will also be renovated with support from an Illinois State Grant.
Construction on the highly anticipated AIDS Garden, located in Lincoln Park will be completed in 2022. The space will feature a Gingko tree grove and native plantings curated to create a rich, sensory experience. The 30 foot, “Self Portrait” sculpture designed by the late Keith Haring was installed last summer and anchors the project. The AIDS Garden is the first public space in the City dedicated to those who are living with or have lost their lives to HIV and AIDS.
The 2022 Budget will also allow the District to move forward with other capital investments, including the ongoing construction of the Chicago Park District’s new headquarters in Brighton Park, ecological restoration along the Chicago River and major fieldhouse improvements at Revere, Avondale, Blackhawk, Chopin, West Pullman and Hermosa Parks, which will continue into 2022. Improvements range from roof replacement, masonry and window restorations and a variety of site and access improvements.
The Chicago Park District, like many other agencies, is experiencing the financial aftermath of lost revenue from the pandemic. The District continues to recover from an overall revenue loss of $85 million in 2020 including $13 million in program fees. In order to keep program fees static, the 2022 budget recommendations include a nominal property tax increase, marking just the fifth time in the past 16 years that the Chicago Park District has implemented a property tax increase. The $4.3 million property tax increase will only cost the average homeowner an additional $4 a year.
These funds will help support vital park operations into the future while ensuring the District’s pension reform remains on track. In 2022, the third year of a four-year pension ramp up that was initiated in 2020, the District will allocate a total of $52 million ($8.8 million more than 2021) towards the pension fund. This investment, along with legislation passed by the Illinois General Assembly in May, puts the Park Employees & Retirement Employees Annuity and Benefit Fund on a path to full funding. This legislation created a third tier of employees, gave optional election to Tier 2 employees and most importantly, it guarantees retirement security to all employees and existing retirees.
Other 2022 budget highlights include the District’s collaboration with the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events and the Chicago Public Libraries to activate the Culture in My Neighborhood initiative to host arts organizations and provide affordable performance and rehearsal space for neighborhood artists. The District will expand its Chicago Parks Alfresco program on the south and west side to solve geographic gaps and increase economic opportunities for concessions in areas that lack outdoor dining.
The Chicago Park District’s 2022 budget recommendations can be viewed online at https://www.chicagoparkdistrict.com/annual-budget-process.