Move over, Friends of the Parks. The group that kept the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art from landing in Chicago now has company in Keep Grant Green, a grassroots organization whose mission is to prevent what it calls the overcommercialization of Grant Park.
Keep Grant Green, a coalition of South Loop residents founded in 2016, objects to "the push to develop Grant Park along commercial lines." It cites specifically Grant Park Conservancy's plans for a proposed outdoor gym, Health Space @ Grant Park. The 36,000-square-foot project, planned for south of Balbo Drive and just west of Columbus Drive, would take over the park's former skate park. That skate park closed after a new skate park opened off Roosevelt Road in 2014.
Keep Grant Green takes issue with "the ever-increasing stream of corporate-sponsored festivals" that take place at the park. Keep Grant Green's website quotes a 2015 University of Chicago study showing that for about 54 percent of the time between April 1 and December 1 of 2015, large portions of the park were closed to the public.
It also questions the relationship between the nonprofit Grant Park Conservancy and Grant Park Advisory Council, one of the city's 50-some advisory councils linked to public parks. Robert O'Neill has been president of Grant Park Advisory Council for 18 years. He is also president of Grant Park Conservancy, which he founded in 2002 to advocate for the park. "This is really just insulting to me," O'Neill says of Keep Grant Green. "I have spent 35 years advocating for green space in Chicago."