ML - Michigan Avenue

2015 - Issue 2 - Late Spring

Michigan Avenue - Niche Media - Michigan Avenue magazine is a luxury lifestyle magazine centered around Chicago’s finest people, events, fashion, health & beauty, fine dining & more!

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Page 63 of 139

photography by heather talbert Play Time Chicago Park District head Michael Kelly gets personal about some of his favorite things. chicago view: "I'm a South Sider, so I'm biased toward the view from the south looking north. If you can get to those South Side vantage points— Promontory Point, 31st Street Beach, way down at 79th Street—just do it. Those views are sensational." that's his bag: "I used to play the bagpipes. When I graduated from college, my father asked me what I was going to do. I said, 'Well, I'm either going to learn to play the banjo, the fddle, or the bagpipes.' Next day he hands me a card. 'This guy's name is Terry. He's going to teach you the bagpipes. You start tomorrow.'" local eats: "I'm lucky enough that my kids like seafood. Shaw's Oyster Bar is noisy [in a good way], and we can still squeeze into one booth. So that's my place." "Our Mount Greenwood Park had everything for us. I played hockey; I learned how to wrestle in the park. You name it." At 23, Kelly served in the city's depart- ment of human services as a youth-service worker; after graduating from DePaul law school in 2001 and working in various positions with the City of Chicago, he joined the Park District as director of inter-govern- mental affairs, working his way up to first deputy general counsel (the CPD's first), COO, and in 2011, general superintendent and CEO. Since then, Kelly has seriously stepped up the Park District's game: He led the agency to the NRPA's 2014 Gold Medal Award for excellence in planning and resource management—a first for the city, and, says Kelly with pride, the equivalent of win- ning "the national championship of parks." Now, with the Mayor Emanuel – driven vision of "Children First," Kelly and his team have embarked on a series of ambitious new projects to ensure that the city's kids are well-served: 168 new playgrounds com- pleted under the mayor's Chicago Plays! program, with an additional 78 on the docket for 2015; new, cutting-edge parks like La Villita in the Little Village neighborhood as well as the new 606 recreation area and Maggie Daley Park (see page 54); and soon-to- come projects like a 600-acre cyclo-cross course on the far South Side that Kelly pledges will be the best in the country—"and probably the world." At the crux of the department's success, insists Kelly, is his team. It's a statement that would nor- mally provoke an eye roll, but, in the case of CPD, rings true: In peak season, scattered across Chicago is a CPD staff of 7,100 recreation leaders, camp coun- selors, lifeguards, landscapers, park attendants, and tradespeople. "What I'm most proud of is the sense of morale and pride that I get from our employees," says Kelly, who has visited every park in the city dur- ing his four-and-a-half-year tenure. "When I'm out in the field I can look our folks in the eye and say, 'You are the front line.' Our people are like that great teacher or coach you had growing up that you'll never forget. Let's face it, you're trusting your 5- or 6 -year-old to the staff of the Park District—that's an awesome responsibility." Kelly acknowledges that running the CPD isn't all green grass and laughing kids; limited resources are a constant challenge. "In a typical year, two-thirds of [our capital] goes to maintenance," notes Kelly. "That doesn't leave much money." For his team, that means hustling for partnerships—with the state, the federal government, and local community groups— to keep the money f lowing. "We can't just sit back and say, 'We'll get to you when we get to you,'" he says. "People in Chicago love their parks, and they want to see improvements in their child's lifetime." In his travels, Kelly has found inspiration in green spaces from Philadelphia to Paris—"Every city we go, I'm dragging my family to the parks"—but he's adamant that there's no place like home. "A lot of park districts have more land," he concedes. "But nobody has the facilities we have; we're second to none. We really are the green fabric of the city." MA clockwise from top left: Books from the Chicago Park District; autographed guitars from Lollapalooza (held annually in Grant Park) on display at the CPD offices; Michael Kelly's desk. 62 PEOPLE View from the Top

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