A Trail of Giving: A Billionaire Hedge Funder Steps Up for a Parks Project

 The Lakefront trail

The Lakefront trail

Evidence keeps rolling in showing that urban parks are a favored cause among today's top givers. Billionaires who've given big for parks in recent years include George Kaiser, Richard and Nancy Kinder, John Paulson, Barry Diller and Diane von Furstenberg, Bill and Karen Ackman, and Stephen Bechtel, Jr.

Now, we can add another name to that list: hedge funder Ken Griffin of Citadel LLC. The Chicago billionaire recently stepped up for the Windy City with a $12 million gift to the Chicago Park District. The gift supports the completion of a project designed to create distinct paths for cyclists and pedestrians along Chicago's Lakefront Trails.

Developing park trails has become a big trend in many cities, with living donors and legacy foundations alike excited by the potential of these trails to knit together different parts of cities and offer alternative ways to get around and stay fit. 

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We've kept an eye on Ken Griffin's philanthropy, and for good reason. His current net worth is $7.7 billion and he has a growing record of giving.

Griffin and his former wife Anne were active philanthropists through their Kenneth and Anne Griffin Foundation, focusing on areas like early childhood education, the arts, and medical research. Supporting institutions in Chicagoland was a top priority. In the wake of the couple's divorce, the direction of Griffin's philanthropy has been less clear.

One area that is likely to continue to remain on the hedge funder's radar is the arts. Griffin has an interest in post-impressionism and is one of the 200 most active art buyers in the world, per ARTnews. Around a year ago, Griffin made a huge gift to the MoMA. He's also given big to the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. In late 2015, Griffin purchased two paintings by Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock from David Geffen, reportedly paying $500 million in one of the biggest private art sales ever.  

Other giving by Griffin incudes a $150 million gift to his alma mater Harvard College to support student financial aid, Oh, and let's not forget that gift for a dinosaur exhibit at Chicago's Field Museum

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For now, it appears that Griffin is doing much of his giving independently of a formal foundation, and this latest give suggests that the city of Chicago will remain a top priority. Griffin's $12 million will split the 18-mile Lakefront Trail into separate paths for cyclists and pedestrians, alleviating points of congestion. More than than 100,000 people a day use the trail on summer weekends.

As Mayor Rahm Emanuel says, "This is an important step in making the Lakefront Trail safer, more accessible, and more enjoyable for the thousands of Chicagoans and visitors that travel the path each day. It would not have been possible without Ken's philanthropy to the City of Chicago, with this gift being the most recent."

And in Griffin's words, "On a beautiful day, the Lakefront Trail should be a place where cyclists, runners and walkers can enjoy their activities without having to navigate around one another."

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