Grant Park gets a makeover

By Taylor Hartz | Staff Writer

Visitors to Grant Park can expect to see major changes in the next year, with the team at the Grant Park Conservancy setting goals for a better looking green space.

The non-profit group has launched a few initiatives that will improve the appearance of Grant Park with repainted fences, new landscaping and artistic advertisements.

Earlier this year, the GPC teamed up with Bailey Nurseries, Inc., in Newport, Minn. In an effort to make Grant Park greener, the nursery will donate large scale landscaping projects to Grant Park on an annual basis beginning this year.

In October, the company gave Grant Park hundreds of trees, bushes and flowers, along with all the materials necessary to plant the new greenery. According to GPC President Bob O’Neill, the conservancy is currently putting out bids for contractors to manage the new landscaping.

“A lot of times with volunteer projects, people walk away from projects and the plants die,” said O’Neill, “A project of this size means having a contract plan for taking care of the landscaping.”

This is the first year the GPC is working with Bailey, “It’s all very new, we’re still building the relationship with them,” said O’Neil.

The conservancy teamed up with the Minnesota nursery after it donated landscaping to the Lincoln Park Zoo for this year’s Chicago Ale Fest. O’Neill said the nursery then found their way to them through word of mouth.

According to O’Neill, the conservancy wants the partnership to be a serious longterm project. Moving forward, Bailey will donate more plants and planting materials every year to improve a different area of the park. This year, he hopes to start by filling flower beds in the skate park area.

In exchange for their donations, O’Neill said the nursery hopes to promote their products at future festivals in Grant Park, but assured it will be done tastefully.  The nursery will decorate festivals with donated flowers and plants that will have small “Bailey Nurseries” labels on the potting. “They’re very good at being subtle about it,” said O’Neill.

Tasteful advertising in Grant Park is a must for the Grant Park Conservancy.

The group this summer launched another initiative to beautify the park through its advertisements, by teaming up with local artists to make commercial advertisements and park notices more aesthetically pleasing.

“Every ad can be art and advertising” said O’Neill, who said the GPC hopes to make ads in the underpass that connects the park to lake more artistic.

In October, O’Neill said the conservancy was negotiating with the park’s concession  management team. The president said he understands that private advertising is needed in the parks, but doesn’t think it needs to be an eyesore.

“If we’re going to have advertising, which raises revenue, then we need to make it creative and artistic.”

In recent years, cell phone companies have advertised in the underpasses, and the conservancy hopes to work with these companies to negotiate contracts for 2018 advertising campaigns that are more artistic.

“It’s a good thing to raise private revenue because then property taxes don’t have to go to park improvement, but it has to be done in an artistic, green way,” said O’Neill.

The conservancy is also working with Park Concessions Management, headquartered in Grant Park, to improve the appearance of park related ads and notices.

This includes signage for food and drink options, along with ads for outdoor wifi and cell phone charging stations that are being put up in parks. Such signs are popping up on the Oak Street and North Avenue beaches, in Grant Park, by DuSable Harbor, and in several other areas that have cafes and concession stands.

“The idea is to make them effective adverts but more importantly to make them aesthetically pleasing to avoid over-corporatizing the parks,” said O’Neill. The conservancy has already made moves to show the management group artist renderings, has brought artists in to give presentations, and have more upcoming meetings on the calendar.

One local artist, Abdel Morched, has delivered a presentation to show off ideas for more creative ad campaigns. Morched is the owner of “Color and Chill” –  a company that markets advanced coloring books with complex geometric designs. According to O’Neil, Morched works primarily in graphic design that he creates on a tablet and transfers to printed work.

Artist Rich Alapack has also teamed up with the conservancy to focus on more 3-D art. Alapack is currently working on a tile mural in the West Loop, and previously designed the “We All Live Here” project at Ogden International School of Chicago. Alapack’s collaboration with community members is what stood out to the conservancy.

“We’re looking at involving not only more artists but members of the community,” said O’Neill. “Alapack doesn’t do projects without involving people, that’s what he stands for.”

O’Neill said the artist’s idea for Grant Park involves the skate park area. Alapack is looking to create an installation, potentially used for advertising in the skate park, that will be made entirely of skateboard decks and wheels.

The group is also working with artists to explore even more creative avenues for advertising, including LED lighting and projections onto trees, especially during festivals.

As the conservancy works to beautify the park grounds, they aren’t forgetting the entryways and street views.

Members of the conservancy have led a volunteer effort to paint all the peeling fences along both sides of Columbus Drive from Balbo Drive to Roosevelt Road. With four sides of fencing around each tree on the sidewalk for several blocks, O’Neill said repainting the wrought iron is “A huge ongoing project.”

Members of the conservancy, supplying all the paint, brushes and scrapers, have been recruiting companies to volunteer their time and is actively seeking more volunteers. The project is expected to take three years.

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