Hoffman Estates among beneficiaries as state resumes park grants
SPRINGFIELD -- Residents of the northern part of Hoffman Estates were thrilled when they heard a local park would be renovated.
It had been 20 years since a playground, a few sports fields and a small parking lot were added to the acres surrounding South Ridge Park.
Meanwhile, parks in other areas of Hoffman Estates had already seen new construction and updated amenities.
"So when we announced that we won $400,000 on social media, the reaction from the public was overwhelming," said Katie Burgess, spokeswoman for the Hoffman Estates Park District.
That money came from an Open Space Lands Acquisition and Development grant Illinois' Department of Natural Resources distributes, under the governor's orders, to park districts.
In early February, Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced the 87 recipients of nearly $30 million in grants, mostly distributed in chunks of $400,000.
It was the first time such grants had been awarded since then-Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democrat, announced $26 million in disbursements just before he left office in January 2015. His successor, Republican Bruce Rauner, put park grants on hiatus for his entire 4-year term.
For Hoffman Estates' South Ridge Park, this year's money will go toward a slew of new amenities, including a splash pad for children, a "ninja warrior" course for fitness training and an open-air shelter to the mostly plain grassy area that borders the park's pond.
But Hoffman Estates was only one of the more than 40 Illinois park districts that visited the Capitol Tuesday with similar stories.
Known commonly as "Park District Day," the Springfield event brings representatives from park districts across the state to talk with lawmakers and showcase their renovations.
Money for Open Space Lands Acquisition and Development grants comes from real estate transfer tax revenues.
Since 1987, the program has given more than $415 million to 1,765 local park projects, according to the state.
While local park districts are required to match the funds, they often do much more than that, investing around $700,000 for every $400,000 in grant money, according to the Illinois Association of Park Districts.
"Where else do you go to get a 175% return on investment," said Greg Lewis, executive director of the New Lenox Community Park District in Will County.
Lewis' group is using a $400,000 grant to help build various sports fields, trails and other amenities at the Leigh Creek South Park, which is currently home to just one park district building.
He called the grants a "win-win," because park districts often cannot complete such projects without the state's help.
"Sixty percent of our revenue comes from user fees, so sometimes we're running like a business when we're a not-for-profit," Lewis said. "It's not a choice. We can't build without the grant money."