The NFL and LISC are donating $200,000 to construction of a new artificial turf soccer and football field at Kelly Park, a major win in a two-year campaign to win renovation of the Southwest Side park.
Mark Bachleda and Ramon Salazar of Brighton Park Neighborhood Council  made the announcement at the first annual Brighton Park Fest held Saturday at Kelly Park by BPNC to raise funds for the renovation.
Hundreds of residents turned out for games and festivities, with booths featuring local restaurants.
Pat Levar, chief operating officer of the Chicago Park District, announced the district would contribute $500,000 in capital funds for the field. Previously State Senator Martin Sandoval had won a $210,000 state appropriation for the project.
Sara Reschly of BPNC, chair of the Kelly Park Advisory Council, said CPS had indicated it would kick in the balance of the $1.2 million needed for the field.
Brian Richter, assistant principal of Kelly High, exulted that Kelly’s boys’ soccer team, now in the running for its second citywide championship in a row, would have a real soccer field across the street from the school for practice and games.
In 20 years as a teacher and administrator at Kelly, he said, he’d “watched the park continue to deteriorate….We’re so pleased our children are finally going to get the park they deserve.”
As an educator, he said, he had to point out to his students the “lesson in good government and good community organizing: when people work together, good things happen.
Bacheda recounted community efforts to raise funds and press elected officials for support — volunteers knocking on residents’ doors, a huge town hall meeting last year, a 5K walk, a flea market and sidewalk sale.
“Two years ago, this seemed like an impossible dream,” remarked Anita Caballero, president of BPNC’s board.
“It’s been 40 years since there was significant investment in the park,” commented Reschly. With population shifts, baseball diamonds were no longer heavily used, and bleachers were broken and never repaired, she said. Drainage problems caused large pools of standing water throughout the park for days after heavy rains. “The park has not been kept up,” she said.
Since the campaign was launched, existing drains have been cleaned out and a new sidewalk installed, but Reschly said residents will continue to push for a full renovation of the park, including a new drainage system, new playground equipment, and other features.
The neglected park has been a magnet for gang activity, Reschly said. A renovated park will attract families and provide alternative activities for young people, she said.
A full restoration would cost an estimated $3.4 million, she said.
“These grants and commitments [announced Saturday] are important, but they only take us some of the way,” said Caballero. “We need all of our elected officials to step up and secure the rest of the money we need for the project.”