JPW Update – February 9, 2016

Thanks to all who turned out for last night’s South Parks Public Workshop at the Washington Park Refectory. Here is a “brief” report for those who could not attend.

Attendance and structure: There were perhaps 75 attendees, representing both Washington and Jackson Parks constituencies. Project 120 President Robert Karr gave an overview of the initiative. Landscape architect Patricia O’Donnell then talked about Olmsted’s principles and outlined the major points of the current Washington Park and Jackson Park Framework Plans, with a Q&A session for each plan. (The development of a separate framework plan for the Midway Plaisance is underway.)

Timelines, fundraising: In response to questions, Karr and O’Donnell were much more specific than in prior presentations about timelines, next steps, the status of fundraising. Among the major points:

  • Project 120 has to date raised $1.6M, which has been directed to engage O’Donnell and to help the Chicago Park District (CPD) meet the required match for the Great Lakes Fishery and Ecosystem Restoration (GLFER) project of the US Army Corps of Engineers. The first phase of GLFER (2015-16) has focused on the lagoons that surround Wooded Island – stabilizing the water’s edges, removing invasive species (a requirement of the federal program), and extensive planting of a variety of native plants.
  • Project 120 is now trying to raise an additional $1M by September 2016 in order to support a second phase of GLFER (2017-18?) that would focus on the boat harbors on either side of Lake Shore Drive, south of Hayes Drive.
  • GLFER is the only project currently approved by the CPD for implementation, under the terms of a Memorandum of Understanding that Project 120 signed with CPD in June 2014.
  • Subsequent parts of Project 120’s Jackson Park Framework Plan (and of the other framework plans) will be subject to extensive discussion and a public review process before being green-lighted (though the exact approval process remains undefined) and all are dependent first on successful fundraising.
  • Karr stated that Project 120 is committed to engaging the community and wants to be a model for such initiatives. He recognized that there needs to be much more public input and communication. O’Donnell stressed that the current framework plans are only the first of many versions that will evolve over the coming years in response to funding availability, events (such as the Obama Library), and community input.

Discussion of the Jackson Park Framework Plan (beyond the GLFER work already completed or in progress):

  • Who are you? Who are your donors? (relevant for both Washington and Jackson Park discussions)
    • Karr talked of his own personal interests and long connections with the Japanese garden and of the origins of Project 120 from the Garden of the Phoenix Foundation and the convergence of its interests in enhancing the Japanese garden with the GLFER project.
    • The major donor identified was local Hyde Park benefactor Bernard DelGiorno, who has committed $1M.
  • Visitors center/music pavilion
    • O’Donnell posited the need for a “home” in the park – some place that would be active and inhabited all the time – as necessary to improve safety (or perceptions of safety) and make the park more inviting. She stressed that the pavilion’s music performance capacity was meant to be low-level – for groups of perhaps 250, not for large-scale events.
    • As you might expect, many attendees were not persuaded by her points and there was a chorus of concerns: noise bothering birds and near-by residents; danger of glass panels to birds; loss of trees and parking spaces; planning for visitors rather than residents; primacy of Wooded Island as a nature preserve; availability of other venues for exhibits, meetings, performances, restrooms; lack of a business plan for the facility detailing operating, staffing and maintenance needs and costs.
  • Great Lawn
    • The Framework Plan relocates the golf driving to the south of Hayes Drive and creates a large open expanse east of Bobolink Meadow.
    • Concerns expressed include removal of trees, with preference for trees versus huge open space; removal of tennis courts and dog park.
  • Darrow Bridge
    • Note: This is not a Project 120 initiative; rather it is an initiative of CPD with the Department of Transportation. But the renovation of the bridge is the basis for part of the framework plan, including an active driveway leading from Lake Shore Drive across the bridge to Cornell Drive. The current plan shows this as a one-way-west drive, with parking along the sides.
    • Concerns expressed include problems with noise affecting Wooded Island, safety, congestion, pass-through traffic.
  • Cornell Drive
    • Framework Plan proposes narrowing or reconfiguration (median with trees, bike lanes) to slow traffic
    • Concerns expressed include congestion and other problems for commuters who rely on the link to Stony Island and beyond
  • Project 120’s next steps for Jackson Park
    • Fundraising for GLFER project phase 2
    • Spring/Summer 2016: stage public walks in park to solicit community input; add overlook benches around Wooded Island lagoons; plant trees; conduct traffic assessments
    • More public meetings (no schedule set)

It is encouraging to know that Project 120 understands the need for much more community input and that all plans will have public review before approval by CPD. But it will be a long process, and it will be important to stay tuned and to participate actively in the discussions for each part of the design.

If you have questions and comments, please respond to this message, and we will share and try to address those as a group.

If those who attended have other comments or observations to emphasize and share, please respond to this email; we will collect and redistribute those notes in a second communication.

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