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Public Weighs In On Future Of Glen Oak Park

Glen Oak Park
Brady Johnson
/
WCBU
A sign erected at a private home near Glen Oak Park calling for the preservation of the Amphitheater.

East Bluff residents shared concerns and offered ideas about the future of Glen Oak Park during the park district’s “Park Possible” discussions on Monday.

Executive Director of Parks and Recreation Emily Cahill moderated the discussion with the intent to clear up misinformation about her department’s interest in updating the park.

“There is not at present a recommendation in front of the board,” Cahill said to attendees. “This is an opportunity for us to have a conversation to make sure that the plan we put forth best serves this neighborhood, best serves this community.”

Earlier, Cahill told WCBU the “Park Possible” conversations are the district’s solution to gaining insight while combating rumors. For example, recently one resident informed Cahill they were against paving over the lagoon and establishing buildings — something the park district never discussed in its current plans.

“People’s emotions tied to tradition and history, that’s a big hurdle to overcome,” Cahill said to WCBU. “I understand that. I have things that are traditions for my family or spaces and places that I feel very strongly about. So I want to honor that. I also want to try to find those opportunities where if we can re-imagine things, but still be able to do a lot of the things that we want to do just a little bit differently. I hope we’re honoring the past and working towards a future that is more valuable to more people.”

East Bluff resident Jesse McGowan Jr. addressed the crowd, telling everyone they should come together and “be for something” as many residents who attended the event had concerns the district wanted to demolish the performance space.

“I talked to everyone involved, this is simply an exploration of ideas,” McGowan Jr. said. “I would like for it to be more than just about the amphitheater. What I would like us to do is to go back, go through the park (and) see what we can do to make the park better.”

For the next hour and a half residents spoke from their seats or from the microphone to offer ideas and ask questions.

The amphitheater

Nearly all attendees raised their hands in support of keeping the band shell, while Cahill assured residents that Glen Oak’s performance space will not go away.

Although the initial “puzzle piece” plans showed the removal of the amphitheater Cahill told WCBU “we didn’t have anything set in stone that was like, ‘If we don’t do this we quit.’” Cahill mentioned the park sees hundreds of thousands of visitors and that the 42 acres need to be utilized and spread out a bit.

Many residents shared memories of participating in productions on stage or attending with their families, cementing the desire to maintain the band shell.

East Bluff resident Bruce Morgan, whose front yard holds a large “Save Our Amphitheater at Glen Oak Park” banner, said the band shell needs to be renovated or torn down for a nice new amphitheater.

“The noise doesn’t bother the neighbors, we love it,” Morgan said to fellow attendees. “If we’re not here enjoying the activities that they sponsor we listen to it in our yards.”

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Brady Johnson
/
WCBU
East Bluff resident Lawrence Maushard gives a prepared speech in favor of keeping an amphitheater in Glen Oak Park. Park District Executive Director Emily Cahill listens in the background.

Another East Bluff resident, Laurence Maushard, gave a prepared speech detailing the need to restore the Glen Oak Park loop by prioritizing the paths for pedestrians and cyclists.

Earlier, Maushard told WCBU “the thing is the commitment of the city in Glen Oak Park to a performance space, a regular performance space, a serious performance space, and a place where you can be proud of. That needs to be retained. So, that’s why I think a lot of people are here tonight.”

Another East Bluff resident, Roz McGinnis Helms, shared fond memories of the park in an interview with WCBU.

“My family came here and enjoyed the band concerts,” McGinnis Helms said. “I can remember one time in high school seeing the Beach Boys here.” McGinnis Helms mentioned her father held fundraisers benefiting research on Alzheimer's disease through concerts at the band shell.

Many residents carried signs with the same message of Maushard, McGinnis Helms, and Morgan — save the amphitheater.

One resident brought up the fact the municipal band owned the band shell and Cahill told residents the city and the municipal band are like arms on a body having to work together, with her noting there hasn’t been a signed agreement between them since 1984.

Concerns that a private group seeking an amphitheater in Donovan Park would shift focus from Glen Oak Park also were extinguished by Cahill.

“We do not view it that way,” Cahill said to attendees. “I want to say that eight times. We are not thinking about that in that way. Those things have been linked together by circumstance, by time, by media, by everybody. We do not think about those as an, ‘I’m going to unplug it here and plug it in there.’ That is not what we are talking about. We see the need for programming space in this park. We see the need for special event space in this park.”

Basketball, fences, and playgrounds

Cahill said the plan is like a puzzle and the community can work together to decide what works best for residents in the East Bluff, while at the same time offer amenities to match regional centers, like the zoo and Playhouse Museum. One idea proposed is to include an inclusive playground for all kids, a first in Peoria parks.

The current “puzzle” shows the inclusive playground that would be accessible to all kids able-bodied or not, where the amphitheater currently sits. Yet, after hearing the Tricentennial Playground would need to be replaced as the wood is deteriorating, some residents suggested the new playground go in its place.

Though one idea in contention is the proposed addition of basketball courts. Residents voiced their concerns the addition will only bring fights and damage to the courts. McGowan Jr. said there were fights at the Glen Oak School courts, but no damage to the extent that some were suggesting.

“Speaking of the basketball courts up at Glen Oak School I know personally because I am the one who had the goals out up there. They didn’t destroy the goals. They didn’t steal the nets. They didn’t steal the rim. There were fights. Yes, there are going to be fights where there is basketball left. Down at the park(s), there are fights. If we’re going to put them (new courts) at the bottom of the hill it is not going to benefit the East Bluff,” McGowan Jr. told attendees.

McGowan Jr. supports some supervision of the courts, but the courts shouldn’t be isolated from the rest of the park. For McGowan Jr. that would mean isolating the kids.

One idea that seemingly found universal support is removing the barbed-wire fence surrounding the amphitheater and lagoon. Cahill and others agreed the fence was not only a visual disruption, but an unintended sign to stay away. Temporary fencing was discussed for special events and the construction of a new fence around the lagoon for safety reasons.

During the fence discussion, Superintendent of Parks Division Matt Freeman clarified the removal of visual impediments would only include the fence, the vegetation on it, and the non-native trees in the park. According to Freeman, the district will be considerate when it comes to vegetation removal.

There are other upcoming scheduled discussions about the park including: Talk About it Tuesday: Glen Oak Park Aug. 24 from 4-6 p.m., and Talk About it Tuesday: Glen Oak Park Aug. 31, also from 4-6 p.m., and Park Possible: Glen Oak Park Amphitheater, Sept. 1 at 6 p.m. (at the Noble Center if inclement weather).

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