Pritzker announces $60 million park grants; allotments put added emphasis on ‘distressed’ communities


Gov. JB Pritzker is pictured on Wednesday at Gietl Park in Springfield, where he announced nearly $60 million in land acquisition and development grants for parks and open spaces. | Capitol News Illinois photo by Nika Schoonover

SPRINGFIELD – Gov. JB Pritzker on Wednesday announced the release of nearly $60 million in grant funding to help local governments develop public parks and open spaces, over 20 percent of which will go to “distressed” communities.

The money through the Open Space Land Acquisition and Development grants was distributed to 118 projects, all but one ranging from $102,800 to $600,000 per grant, per a news release. The allotment to “distressed” communities – which are determined by an area’s poverty level and land value – is a roughly five-fold increase from the previous fiscal year.

The village of Plymouth in Hancock County and the village of Industry in McDonough County each received $600,000. The village of Milton in Pike County received $599,000. A press release from the governor’s office listed each county as “distressed.”

The governor made the announcement at a park in Springfield that will receive $600,000 through the Springfield Park District to demolish an outdoor pool and build a modern splash pad and pool facility.

Pritzker noted that the current fiscal year marks the first time that 100 percent of costs in distressed communities will be covered, as lawmakers waived the cost-sharing requirement for projects in those communities that would normally apply to grantees.

“This means that places needing renewal and restoration like the city of Cairo, Illinois, which is a recipient of their first ever OSLAD grant will be able to improve their parks and their green space,” Pritzker said.

Cairo was slated to receive $599,500 in grant funding. Approximately 59 percent of the grants are directed to the Chicagoland area, including Cook and its five surrounding counties. A total of 46 counties will see new projects.

At least $12.5 million of the more than $59 million in funding will go to distressed communities.

Among the other projects, the city of Benld in Macoupin County will receive $600,000 at the site of its former elementary school that was destroyed by underground mine subsidence in 2009. Peoria Park District will receive $255,000 to acquire 40 acres along the Illinois River Bluff to extend a hiking trail and conduct conservation work. It will also receive $600,000 to replace an outdoor swimming pool at its Lakeview Park with a modern splash pad and pool facility. Another $600,000 would go to the Chicago Heights Park District to build three soccer fields, new lighting and spectator seating at Commissioners Park.

This year, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, which oversees the grants, contracted with the Northern Illinois University Institute for the Study of Environment, Sustainability and Energy. Through that partnership, 15 undergraduate and graduate NIU students served as supervised grant reviewers.

“One of our students shared that she and her family had enjoyed access to a brand new neighborhood park, in her small village in Illinois,” said Thomas Skuzinski, director of the institute at NIU. “And knowing that she had played a role in helping to bring that kind of opportunity to families and communities statewide, was in her words, truly life changing, and easily the most important thing that she had ever done in her life.”

The OSLAD grant program has been in place in Illinois since 1986, and the Fiscal Year 2023 allotment is the largest in its history. Pritzker’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2024 includes $56 million for OSLAD grants.

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