City of Chicago Finally Takes Possession of the Bloomingdale

Rendering of the Bloomingdale Trail at Milwaukee Avenue.

After a few months of relative quiet since the last community meeting in September, there’s some news about the highly anticipated project to build a multi-use trail and “linear park” along the Bloomingdale Line. On Tuesday of last week, years after announcing its intention to open the trail, the city of Chicago finally purchased the right-of-way from Canadian Pacific Railway for one dollar, plus $105,000 in administrative fees associated with the railroad vacating the land. The city will eventually give the property to the Chicago Park District, which will administer the trail. “That’s pretty typical of what happens when the park district acquires land,” says Beth White, director of the Trust for Public Land, which is spearheading fundraising efforts.

The 2.65-mile greenway will cost $91 million, with $76.5 million going towards construction and the remainder budgeted for design and stewardship, White says. $39 million is coming from a federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ) grant. The required 20 percent local match of $9 million includes $2 million from the Park District plus donations of $5 million from Exelon and $1 million each from Boeing and CNA. This funding is enough to build the basic trail.

Meanwhile, TPL is working to raise $40 – $50 million more in private donations to pay for building parks at the access points, plus enhancements like public art, maintenance and programming, with $12.5 million raised so far, White says. Last week over 75 potential donors attended a fundraiser at the Casino Club hosted by Winona Capital Management’s Laird Koldyke, also a Park District board member, and his wife Deirdre, head of the Earthheart Foundation, a philanthropic organization. White declined to tell me who some of the major donors are so far but says there will be an announcement this spring.

After unveiling “90 percent complete” plans for the trail and taking final comments from the public at the September meeting, the Bloomingdale team is finishing the design and engineering for the trail based on that input, White says. The project should be put out to bid this spring with construction starting in June or July, and the basic trail should be ready to ride by fall of 2014. “By then we’ll have the path, some landscaping and benches,” White says. “We wanted to be sure to provide access by next year because Mayor Emanuel heard loud and clear that the public wants to get up there sooner than later.” The project, including access parks and enhancements, should be completed by 2015.

White says there will be another community meeting in February or March to unveil the final design to the public. “I’m happy to report that the project is on track and we’re moving forward and hitting our milestones,” she says. “It’s going to be America’s next great park.”

  • Very excited about this. I will be using it daily when it opens.

  • Jason Marshall

    Let me first say that I fully support this project and am excited to see it (finally) start to take shape.

    On the other hand – I am frustrated at the slow rate of progress.  If it really is going to take over ten years of meetings, studies, and outreach before ground is broken on a project like this then sadly we won’t get to see too many of them come to fruition in our short lifetimes.

    I understand that this effort is the first of its kind in Chicago and thus the bar is set higher, the hurtles are more numerous, the barriers to progress more formidable, the obstacles more deadly… whatever – I understand.  It is hard to challenge the status quo. 

    I have a lot of respect and appreciation for the activists and advocates that have advanced this project.  Unfortunately (and as evidenced by the rendering accompanying this article) I feel that the level of grandiosity is making this effort less of a template for future initiatives and more of an expensive and isolated project in a bubble – Logan Square’s Millennium Park.  There is an unfortunate and undeniable downside to “making no small plans”.

    I would love to see another liner path built along the tracks at Kinzie or 16th Street (or both) but this time let’s just get out there with a paving crew and knock that shit out.  Whenever I am in Madison, WI I am impressed how they seem to have taken every opportunity to convert legacy rail right of ways into bike paths without feeling the need to reach into the dogma of codified consistency or holding an endless series of design charrettes and publishing countless white papers.

    I know this little rant is probably getting some eye-rolls from the many formally trained urban-planners and civic-engineers who read this blog.  I get it, there is an inevitable degree of bureaucracy and red-tape that comes with getting anything done and that planning is important.  I just hope we can slide a little bit left on the planning continuum moving forward. 

    I don’t know – does anyone want to meet me at Home Depot?  We can pick up a few bags of cement and start pouring forms on 16th street.  I bet we will get our trail done before Bloomingdale is complete.

  • Adam Herstein

    I saw someone walking on the Bloomingdale the other day. I wonder if it was someone trespassing, or something from the city surveying. My guess would be the former.

  • I hear you in some ways, but this project presented so many technical difficulties. I live near the trail and figured it would not be open until my kid, now six, was in high school-if that! (Hmm, maybe my bar was too low? :) To think this will be useable in the near future is amazing.

    I also appreciate that it has been conceived as not just a trail/throughway, but as a park with parks as access points–the emerald charm bracelet to go with the emerald necklace. We are in such need a more parks around here.

    I wonder if being so high design/high profile has made it somewhat easier to fundraise around. It was going to cost a ton anyway; perhaps the chance to guild the lily helped open some pocketbooks? That said, I agree that quantity should generally trump quality. Would love to see more rail right of ways turned into trails.

  • BlueFairlane

    I trespass on the Bloomingdale Trail fairly regularly, and I almost always see at least one or two joggers or people with dogs joining me.

  • It’s true that the Bloomindale project moved slowly under the Richard M. Daley administration. Two years after the city announced who they were selecting to build the trail, the contract was still sitting in Procurement. But almost immediately after Emanuel announced his intention to build the trail by 2015 the contract was approved, and things have been moving rapidly since then.

  • What to do with the vast hobo village at the Ashland end? I propose a monument to the strong and free hobo people.

  • Jason Marshall

    – You make a good point in distinguishing this project as a parks and recreation effort as opposed to what I was describing from the perspective of a transportation alternative. 

    I like parks (a lot).  I also like ambitious trans-formative projects like this one that change the civic landscape (literally and figuratively).  I didn’t intend to suggest otherwise.

    So if slow-moving but sweeping and dramatic undertaking is what we want here -cool we got it but I kind of have to challenge your statement “It was going to cost a ton anyway”  As the other commentators mention – people are using the facility now in its current condition.  Weeds are kind of pretty in their own way :)

    I agree that it feels like the rate of progress has increased quite noticeably under the current administration but I won’t start popping champagne until we cut ribbons.