2016 state of the parks report

The Bloch Cancer Survivors Garden celebrates perseverance, Maggie Daley Park is just getting started, Millennium Park is sending people over the top and Grant Park may change the way we think about health care. New Eastside News presents the past, present, and future of our neighborhood greens in a special 2016 state of the parks report.

Pictured: Ron Sison from Manilla, Karlo Fel from Sacramento, and Jem Urmatan from Cleveland strike an item off their Windy City vacation bucket list on an unseasonably warm February afternoon at Millennium Park. “If you come to Chicago, you have to see the Bean,” explains Fel. Photo: Daniel Patton.

Green and seen in the New Eastside

The color of spring abounds in the neighborhood.

With Saint Patrick’s Day approaching, most of us like to celebrate “The luck of the Irish” and don green hues. Although it may be difficult to locate anything green-colored in the cold, dark New Eastside winter, our newsletter always likes a good challenge. It was tough, but here is a list of some of the “green we have seen”:


  • Some of the “ bumps” on the climbing wall at Lake Shore Fitness Club
  • Artificial grass surface outside the 175 Harbor Drive building
  • Award-winning portable johns at Maggie Daley skating rink
  • Giant-sized basket swings just west of the main playground at Maggie Daley Park
  • Argo University sign above Sweetwater’s
  • Upper half of the Chicago Trolley Car
  • A neon green headband of a jogger on Columbus Drive
  • Chairs and a bench outside at Brown Bag Restaurant

You may have to look extra hard, but even in the winter, there is plenty of “green to be seen.”

— Jon Cohn, Community Contributor

What’s new at the Radisson Blu

The Radisson Blu Aqua hotel hosted a resident appreciation reception on February 22, from 6 – 8 p.m., giving New Eastside neighbors the opportunity to mingle, meet, and sample some of the hotel’s new offerings.

Held in the lobby and gallery areas, the event featured culinary demos by Chef Carolina, small bites from Filini bar’s menu, and samples of two new in-house crafted cocktails for spring 2016 — the New Eastside and French Paloma. DJ Stix kept the mood lively, spinning a mix of dance music and Latin jazz.

IMG_2468cA table set for tea, in a corner of the lobby near the elevators, served as a sneak preview. Roman Suhs, Business Development Coordinator at the Radisson Blu Aqua, said that the hotel will soon be offering tea service. According to Suhs, the release date “will likely be sometime this spring.” Plans call for tea to be served Friday through Sunday, with a “TJ” playing music. Reservations are required. “It’s our own take on the tradition of tea with a modern twist,” says Suhs.

New Eastsiders also had the opportunity to learn more about the benefits of this hotel right in their backyard; specifically, meeting and event space rentals and the “Art of Blu” free mobile app, previously reported in this publication, that allows guests to experience a curated, self-guided tour through the lobby and permanent art gallery. Departing guests could leave with sweet treats — bags of custom-mixed blue jelly beans — bearing tags reminding residents that special neighborhood hotel rates are available and to “Book at Blu!” whenever extra rooms are needed.

— Shanti Nagarkatti | Community Contributor

Centennial Fountain, the first sign of spring

As a resident of the Shoreham, my apartment window faces the Chicago River and, during the warmer months, I enjoy watching the Centennial Fountain arc majestically across the river. It is my personal giant water clock. Since the fountain only operates during the first ten minutes of each hour, I keep track of my day by noting when it showers upon unfortunate tour boats.

For some people, the first sign of winter is the first freeze, or the first snowfall. For me, it’s the first day I wake up, gaze out expectantly, and realize the fountain has been silenced for the next six months. I miss my water clock during this time. It is like a good friend who has moved away. I do not celebrate the arrival of summer when the geese reappear or the flowers bloom, but when the mighty swoosh of the Centennial Fountain returns.


Centennial Fountain. Photo by ChicagoArchitecture.org.

My fondest memory of the fountain involves kayaking back in the days when the closest kayak rental was at the North Avenue Bridge. A friend and I decided to paddle to Navy Pier, a three-hour round trip. As we approached the mouth of the river, I looked back at the clock on the Wrigley Building and saw that we were seconds away from the top of the hour, meaning that we were about to get drenched by the Centennial Fountain. Rather than wait, we decided to go for it.

Imagining a 90-minute return journey in clothes soaked by river water, I paddled more vigorously than ever before. I felt like Indiana Jones racing against a sliding door trap, except I wore a baseball cap rather than a fedora.

We made it by mere seconds. The fountain roared to life as we passed by it, cinematically sealing off the route behind us. We laughed and raised our paddles in victory.

Then we paddled back under the fountain to get doused. After all, we’d won, and when would we get another chance to paddle under a fountain?

— Matthew Reiss, Community Contributor

“1916: The Irish Rebellion” at the Siskel Film Center

The US premiere of 1916: The Irish Rebellion will take place at the Gene Siskel Film Center on March 21.

Narrated by Liam Neeson, the film documents The Easter Uprising of 1916, one of many attempts by the Irish people to rid their nation of British occupation. It also explores the event’s subsequent growth into one of the most celebrated moments in the modern day Republic of Ireland.

The documentary was created by the Keough-Naughton Institute for Irish Studies at the University of Notre Dame.

Irish-flag-tricolorAttendees at the premiere will include a discussion with writer and executive producer Bríona Nic Dhiarmada and executive producer Christopher Fox. Nic Dhiarmada, a Professor of Irish Studies at Notre Dame, also participated in much of the documentary’s production.
Working with a $3 million budget, the film began as a three-part series that aired on PBS, BBC, RTÉ, the national broadcaster of Ireland.

Accoring to Nicola Stathers, a writer for the collaborative online project between Ireland’s University College Cork and the Irish Examiner known as the Irish Revolution, the series “has the makings of a classic.”

“Americans will love this documentary,” she says.

The production of the series was designed to ultimately accomodate a feature film, which runs 70-minutes and premieres, for the first time in the US, at the Siskel Film Center.
The film is one of many events that commemorates the centenary of the Easter Rebellion, an action that was not initially considered a success.

Like every other attempt by Irish people to rebel against the British Empire, innocent bystanders from both sides were killed, the nation did not unite and the political situation remained unchanged after that Easter Monday in 1916.

But weeks later, when more than a dozen of the people who organized the action were put to death, it generated widespread momentum that, according to many historians, became the first step in Ireland’s rise to independence.

March 21, 6 p.m.
Gene Siskel Film Center · 164 N. State. St. · (312) 846-2800 · www.siskelfilmcenter.org

— Daniel Patton, Staff Writer

Indoor soccer in the West Loop

As a soccer enthusiast, I appreciate Chicago’s ability to accommodate my obsession. Home to the U.S. Soccer Federation, Chicago has a vibrant soccer scene, even during the cold months. The 12,000-sq. ft. indoor Mercy Soccer Center in the West Loop, where I play in a soccer league, has been my salvation for the past few winters.

Inside the Mercy Soccer Center is artificial turf that contains impact-absorbing rubber pellets. Although these pellets occasionally find their way into my shoes, it is preferable to braving the snow and ending up with cold, wet feet.

soccer-ball5I generally travel to the center by cab and return home to the New Eastside on foot, often without wearing my coat. Since the amount of warmth generated from an hour of sprinting raises my body temperature so much, I can wear short sleeves in a snowstorm and revel in the odd looks of passersby.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of playing in leagues, such as those offered by Mercy Soccer Center, is that games often resemble a United Nations conference. In terms of player numbers, soccer is the most widely practiced sport in the world. According to FIFA’s most recent Big Count survey, there are 265 million players, or roughly 4 percent of the world’s population, actively involved in soccer. Oftentimes, a single game will feature players from Western Europe, Eastern Europe, South America, Asia, and Africa. For an hour, we can join together in play and can forget the troubles of the outside world. How can one not love a sport that brings so many people together?

—Matthew Reis, Community Contributor

Table tennis anyone?

NYC’s SPiN ping-pong club expanding to Chicago.

Chicago table-tennis enthusiasts have more reasons to celebrate this spring with new ping-pong clubs opening nearby. SpiN, a “ping pong social club” will take over 16,000 square feet of long-vacant space at Marina City, 344 N. State Street. SPiN describes itself as “an unusual mixture of sport, design, and entertainment.”

Plans call for 15 to 20 ping-pong tables, which will be available for rental by the half-hour or hour. Players of all ages are welcome until 9 p.m., when the club becomes 21+. Nightly events, tournaments, and private instruction with professional players will be offered, as well as a full bar, restaurant, and multiple VIP Lounges, according to the website wearespin.com. A membership plan offering reserve tables at cheaper rates is also in the works.

The SPiN concept began in a loft in New York’s Tribeca neighborhood. Co-owned by actress Susan Sarandon, a reputed “table tennis ninja,” SPiN has locations in New York, Los Angeles, Toronto, Dubai and now Chicago. Given the city’s size and enthusiasm for sports,

PONG0003a-01Chicago was an “obvious spot” to expand, says SPiN spokesperson Shawn Topp.
According to Topp, ping-pong is a catalyst for connections, culture, and community. “SPiN is a place that’s open and inviting to everyone. You’ll find an eclectic mix of young and old, beginners and more experienced players, from all walks of life,” says Topp.
It is one of the world’s most popular sports, played by some 300 million people, according to the International Table Tennis Federation. Long a mainstay of garages and basements, the game has experienced a boom in popularity.

SPiN is not the only venue looking to capitalize on its resurgence. It will compete against the Killerspin House, a high-energy venue at 135 S. LaSalle Street filled with ping-pong tables, televisions, and upbeat music that has been open since January 2014. Additionally, the British table-tennis club, Bounce Ping Pong, is heading to the corner of Clark St. and Wacker Dr., at 230 N. Clark St., according to a liquor license application and signage.

Closer to home, New Eastside residents can take their own paddles and balls to a table open 24 hours a day within My Storage Suite, on the Pedway level of 225 North Columbus Drive.

— Shanti Nagarkatti, Community Contributor

“Freezin’ Gator Zip” energizes Millennium Park

During the weekend of February 13, thousands of Chicagoans soared over Millennium Park on a 200-foot zip line that stretched from a platform near the northern end of the promenade to a landing area steps away from the Bean. Although the ride lasted only a few seconds, the thrilling experience created lasting memories.

“You can’t beat the skyline view,” said travelingmom.com editor Cindy Richards, who journeyed from Indiana on the coldest weekend of the winter to give it a whirl. “If you think your kids might like to zip line, this is a great test.”


Lauren Swedlow and Sommer Stone after enjoying the ride. Photo: Daniel Patton

Among the kids who agreed with her was Chicago student Sommer Stone, who said that she was initially nervous because “the platform got shaky” while the harness was reeled into place, but started enjoying the ride as soon as she took off.

Officially known as “The Freezin’ Gator Zip,” the event was created by Experience Kissimmee, the tourism council of Osceola County, Florida. It was designed to tempt Chicagoans into visiting the subtropical destination with a chilled-down version of a thrill that can be enjoyed there year-round.

According to Experience Kissimmee’s CEO, D.T. Minich, a gravity-powered pulley contraption of this sort has never been erected in a place like downtown Chicago before.
“We worked with the City of Chicago Parks & Rec,” he said. “They were great, but when we first started this idea I was like, ‘I don’t know if we can get them to buy in.’”

The company plans to take the show on the road next year, most likely to New York City, but was determined to hold the inaugural run in the Windy City. “This is such a special market for us,” explained Minich. “We love the people up here and it’s a great setting next to the ice rink and everything.”


Cooter and friend from Gator World

The event also featured two live alligators from Gatorland, a theme park located within the headwaters of the Everglades that flow near Kissimmee. The carnivorous reptiles not only remained calm as guests held them for photos in the “warming tent” next to the landing area, but they also stirred up more excitement than the complimentary hot chocolate just a few feet away.

The spectacle was kept safe by two animal handlers from Gatorland named Cooter and Bubba, who had secured the animals’ jaws with electrical tape before the event began and wore coveralls the rest of the time. Additionally, explained Cooter, the predators are generally harmless unless they are provoked. “Alligators are like couch potatoes,” he said.
Over the nine years that he has worked for the family-owned, 110-acre theme park that houses 1,730 alligators, 51 crocodiles and hundreds of additional poisonous creatures, Cooter has only been bitten twice.

It happened during feeding time. “We hold chicken over the water,” he says. “Kinda like a person hanging from a zip line.”

— Daniel Patton | Staff Writer

Consulates of the New Eastside

When they’re not battling global intrigue or issuing visas, which is most of the time, foreign consulates in the United States are promoting the interests and spreading the culture of the countries they represent. In Chicago, the New Eastside is home to the Midwestern diplomatic offices of Canada, France and the Czech Republic. We sat down with the Consuls General from each organization to find out what exactly they’re up to.


Roy Norton, PhD, Consul General of Canada
180 N. Stetson · (312) 616-1860

Besides inventing hockey, supplying the US with half of its oil and sending more visitors to America than the number of people who actually live there (many Canucks come more than once), Canada’s greatest foreign relations challenge, according to Consul General Roy Norton, is “getting noticed.”

“Americans, I think, have a pretty positive impression of Canada,” he says. “But we’re not top of mind.”

Culturally, Norton would prefer more time to “sit down and impress upon people why they should care about the relationship.” But politically, he deals in US trade and legislation to a greater degree than perhaps any Consul General in the country, mostly due to the volume of business between the Midwest and his homeland.

“Illinois sells more goods to Canada than (it does) to your next five best global customers put together,” he explains.

At that level, legislation can impact entire industries. The Farm Bill of 2008 introduced a measure called the “Country of Origin Labeling” that wreaked havoc on Canadian agricultural and meat producing interests because, according to Norton, it was discriminatory and illegal.

“We fought it for six years and we kept winning in the World Trade Organization,” he says. “The United States didn’t do anything.”

So Canada retaliated by “introducing tariffs on US agricultural exports to Canada in the amount of the losses,” which were in the billions, says Norton.

“It was a very uncharacteristically Canadian thing to do,” he admits. “But we said ‘enough of this, it’s just not fair.’”

After meeting with several Midwestern agribusiness leaders and members of Congress to “impress upon them why they should act to change and what would happen if they didn’t,” Norton helped get the law repealed in the Omnibus Appropriations last December.

There are no hard feelings. Norton is still a huge Chicago Cubs fan and Canadians continue to not only “love” Americans but also remain “fascinated” by them.

“Indeed,” he says, “Maybe we’re obsessed: the entrepreneurialism, the can-do spirit, ‘We Shall Overcome.’”

Among the Americans who have made a lasting impression on Norton is a former classmate from Harvard, where he studied Public Administration as a post-grad. The man was a law student who always struck him as “very sincere, intelligent and inquisitive” named Barack Obama.


Vincent Floreani, Consul General of France
205 N. Michigan · (312) 327-5200

IMG_5771aThe nation of France inspires and provokes Americans by merely existing, much in the same way that the United States does to everyone else in the world. This similarity bonds the countries together like siblings, especially in Chicago, the sister-city of Paris. According to Vincent Floreani, the French Consul General, “We are at a highest point of very close relations on all topics.”

He mentions the recent Paris Agreement, which President Obama referred to as “the best chance we have” to protect the planet from climate change. He also praises the “Iran Nuclear Deal,” which was crafted in part by the permanent members of the UN.

But it is the American response to the recent tragedy in Paris, when more than a hundred people perished at the hands of violent extremists, that appears to move him most.

“We were overwhelmed by the support we received everywhere in the world,” he says. “But especially in the US. Mayor Emanuel came to the French consulate. It was so nice.”

Floreani helps to return the kindness by awarding the Legion of Honor medal to American military veterans in the Midwest who saw action in France. Last month, he met soldiers in Ohio. Next month, he’ll be in Kansas City.

“The French people remember that we were freed twice by American soldiers, in 1917 and 1944,” he says. “I meet them and say you are heroes, you came to France and risked your life for us. This is one of the most rewarding things I do.”

On the business end of his post, Floreani pushes French innovation that “many people don’t know about,” especially in the high-tech and automotive industries. “We have giants like Michellin and Valeo and Faurecia, which make automobile parts,” he says. “When you sit in an American car, there is one chance out of two that the seat you are on is made by a French manufacturer.”

This October marks the 20th anniversary of the Chicago – Paris sister city partnership. Floreani hopes to celebrate the occasion with an encore of 2015’s “A La Carte Chicago,” a weeklong feast of French cuisine in more than a hundred local restaurants complemented by wine tastings, speeches and cooking classes in the Alliance Française, the French cultural and learning center on Chicago Avenue.

For those who cannot wait that long, the second annual Good France / Goût de France event on March 21 will feature “1,000 chefs on all five continents” presenting a typical prix fixe French meal. Eleven of the participating restaurants will be located in the Midwest; seven will be in Chicago.

Given Floreani’s appreciation for Chicago — a “beautiful city” with excellent architecture and cuisine that he considers “very European” — the ambience will mix well with the meal.


Borek Lizec, Consul General, Czech Republic
205 N. Michigan · (312) 861-1037

Generální konzulIn May 1918, 150,000 people filled the streets of Chicago to cheer for a visitor named Tomas Masaryk, who would become the first president of the newly formed nation of Czechoslovakia by year’s end.

Roughly three decades later, the city would support another visiting Czechoslovakian President, Edvard Benes, who came to launch his campaign for Czech independence after the Nazi invasion of World War II.

The resulting bond between the Czech Republic and Chicago — the Sister City of Prague and historic center of Czech immigration — is incomparable.

According to Consul General Borek Lizec, “The largest Czech celebration of 2015 in the US was Prague Days Chicago.” Coinciding with the 25th anniversary of the sisterhood between the two cities, the main theme of the festival was “celebrating Czech history in Chicago,” he explains.

The event featured a startling lineup of famous Americans who claim ancestry from the Bohemian and Moravian regions that constitute much of the Czech Republic. Kim Novac hosted the “Czech That Film” program. Astronauts Eugene Cernan and James Lovell made personalized YouTube invitations. Ray Kroc, Anton Cermak and George Halas were among the other notables honored.

The event also included a concert at Thalia Hall, the historic music venue modeled after the Prague Opera House and built in the Chicago neighborhood of Pilsen, which was named after a town in the Czech Republic. Since the majority of the area’s current residents are of Mexican descent, the show was titled “Bohemian Past, Mexican Present” and included both Mexican and Czech artists and musicians.

The emphasis on the past does not reflect some Czech obsession with history; rather, it is a stage in the renaissance of self-determination that began in 1989, when the Czech people launched a protest against their Communist government. Their efforts initiated a non-violent transfer of power known as the Velvet Revolution.

Lizet was a sixteen year-old student at the time. “My high school was the first high school to go on strike,” he says. “We refused to take classes. We went to Wenceslaus Square to take part in the protests.”

Among the speakers addressing the crowds was writer Václav Havel, who would soon be elected President of Czechoslovakia and, after the peaceful division of the Czechs and Slovacs, President of the Czech Republic.

In the 27 years since, according to the Consul General, it’s been all about moving forward for the ancient kingdom. “After the Velvet Revolution, to come back to the west was our greatest ambition,” he says.

Since the country’s traditional export is beer, their cultural journey westward has been well received by the United States. Leading brands include Pilsner Urquell, Staropramen, and Czechvar, which also sponsored last year’s Czech days. The Czech Republic is also renowned for its decorative glass, which adorns the lobby of the Langham Hotel in River North.

— Daniel Patton | Staff Writer


Skating lessons in Millennium Park

By Angela Gagnon | Staff Writer

The extraordinary outdoor ice-skating venues that offer New Eastsiders a festive way to keep active during the cold winter months are also equipped to help beginners stay upright on the slick, frozen ice. Millennium Park’s McCormick Tribune Ice Rink offers free lessons for hockey and figure skating on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays throughout the winter.

Funded by a grant from McDonald’s Active Lifestyles Endowment and managed by the Millennium Park Foundation, the lessons start one hour before the rink opens: 11 a.m. on Friday; 9 a.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Po-An Tsai, a student at UIC, has been taking hockey lessons for the past two years. “They teach you to skate more powerfully, to turn and to stop,” he says. “Figure skaters learn to spin.”

Besides hockey and figure skating, beginners can simply use the lessons to increase their confidence.

According to Katy McKinnon, a coach and instructor through Ice Reach, a nonprofit outreach organization dedicated to promoting the participation and involvement in ice sports. One of the first things beginners are taught is how to fall and get up. Once they master those important skills, they can learn to skate.

“First, it’s marching, then pushing, and learning how to glide to pick up speed,” says McKinnon.

Ann Marie Shipstad is the Program Director of Ice Reach.  “We’ve been doing the (free Millennium Park) lessons for about five years now, and we are thrilled to be back every year,” says Shipstad.

Shipstad has a staff of professional instructors who also teach at various indoor ice rinks around the city and offer private lessons. For private or semi-private lessons, contact Shipstad at amshipstad@icereach.com.

The ice-skating lessons program will continue, weather permitting, until March 6. Skating is free and open to the public. Skate rental costs $12.

For hours and more information, visit www.millenniumpark.org.

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