Jackson Park Watch “Community Conversations” Update June 22, 2017

Greetings, all,


Facts and information on costs and feasibility were noticeably absent in last night’s “Community conversations” meeting, the first of three in what appears to be a series of community “conversation” meetings in coming months.  Instead, the meeting featured a conflicting array of presentations:

First, a welcoming tone by Deputy Mayor Andrea Zopp and Park District Vice-President Avis LaVelle, saying that community input is needed, that nothing is yet fully decided, and that they need to hear from us all.

Next, a golf course “concept” plan enthusiastically presented by Beau Welling, the golf course designer with whom Tiger Woods works, that expands the existing golf courses footprint, takes out the natural area to the southeast of the South Shore Cultural Center, and not only keeps the golf course driving range but expands it, all the while offering no information about funding or timelines.  Noteworthy points include:

  1. with all games slanted to begin and end at a new pavilion on Cornell and Hayes, the project will have little beneficial economic impact on South Shore’s main commercial corridor, and
  2. despite repeated assurances until yesterday that the nature sanctuary east of the South Shore Cultural Center beach would not be affected, the plan shows it as the site of a new hole featured in the presentation and touted as a key lure for major tournaments.

The following presentation about the Obama Presidential Center by V.P. for Civic Engagement Michael Strautmanis  combined south side boosterism with a crowd-pleasing appeal to all who love the Obamas, but didn’t tell us anything new about OPC plans and hid until the end the fact that OPC plans as they now stand require closing Cornell Drive between 59th and 63rd.

Finally, there was a bland presentation by CDOT commissioner Rebecca Scheinfeld of all of the roads closure and ”improvements” that would be required to realize the “visions” of the OPC and golf course promoters, again without data, costs, or timelines, including:

proposed closures:

  • Cornell Drive 59th to Hayes
  • Midway EB between Stony Island and Cornell
  • NB Cornell Drive from 67th to 65th  
  • Marquette from Stony Island to Richards

proposed “improvements “:

  • improve LSD to Hayes
  • improve interchanges at 63rd (Hayes) & LSD; 63rd & Richards; 63rd & Cornell
  • reconfigure traffic flow & safety where the Midway meets Stony Island
  • improve Stony Island (presumably between 60th and 67th)
  • convert Cornell south of 65th to two-way.

The complete absence of any reference to traffic studies, costs, or feasibility was remarkable.  More importantly, the fact that one of Scheinfeld’s stated goals was “to lessen the impacts on commute times due to the closure or Cornell and Marquette” rather than to investigate the feasibility of closing Cornell and Marquette suggests that CDOT may be compromised and its credibility in doubt. We hope instead to see the data that she seemed to indicate would be forthcoming at some point.

Concluding comments:

The turnout at the meeting was huge, and that was great.  The “listening” sessions at the end of these presentations left something to be desired in terms of the individually facilitated small groups JPW had been told would be there, but nonetheless did allow some chances for individuals to comment.  JPW attempts to accurately summarize the comments in these somewhat random sessions indicate support for the OPC and a desire to help it succeed; major skepticism about the golf course initiative; and extremely serious broad-based concerns about the massive road-closure and reconfigurations presented as if they were a “done deal,” (soothing words from Andrea Zopp and Azis Lavelle at the begining of the meeting notwithstanding), let along questions of exactly who would be paying for all of this major road work.

All in all, JPW urges everyone to attend one of the remaining sessions to ask for real data, information about costs and who will pay them, and workable time lines.  While joining with others in welcoming OPC into our neighborhood, we know that projects as substantial and far-reaching as these of necessity have untold numbers of details that need fine-tuning, and that community input is essential to getting it right.  We want to be certain that traffic and parking arrangements, in particular, ensure that would-be visitors to the OPC and would-be golfers at any newly configured courses (let alone neighborhood residents, those who work in the area, and regular commuters) are not deterred because of massive traffic jams.

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid

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Jackson Park Watch Update – June 16, 2017


Greetings, all,

BREAKING NEWS: On Wednesday, June 14, the Park District and the City announced the beginning of a series of “community conversations” about the future of Jackson Park and South Shore, a welcome albeit belated nod to the importance of the community. Both the Obama Foundation and CDOT will also be involved.

IMMEDIATE CONCERNS: The fact that the first three meetings have been scheduled on very short notice for next week does not bode well, nor does the absence of information about the process or provisions for community concerns to be taken seriously. At the June 14 Park District board meeting, JPW criticized the woefully inadequate advance notice and the absence of information about the structure of the meetings, and issued its own criteria for what a legitimate community input process should look like (see Comprehensive planning for Jackson Park below for that list).

INTERESTING ASIDES: In a private side conversation, we were told that those planning these events envision breakout discussions and feedback at each meeting, and that there will then be a further series of meetings over the next couple of months , each with new information as it becomes available. But there has been no public announcement of these plans so far, so we shall see.

TURNOUT VITAL: This is a critical chance to make community voices heard! All concerned community members should come to one or more of the meetings to hear what is said, raise their questions and concerns, and build momentum for the next round of meetings later in the summer. The greater the participation, the strong the community voice! There are many, many reasons for reasons for skepticism, but the fact remains that if we do not turn out for these meetings to pose our questions and express our anger, all of these plans WILL be a done deal
#1 Wednesday, June 21, South Shore Cultural Center, 6 – 8 p.m.
#2 Saturday, June 24, Hyde Park High School, 10 am – 12 noon
#3 Tuesday, June 27, La Rabida, 6-8 pm, at Alderman Hairston’s ward meeting

IMPORTANT: please share this Update widely with friends, family, neighbors, associates, and anyone who may be or should be interested!

To help prepare for these meetings, we want to share what we’ve been hearing about some key issues:

  • Plans for the Obama Presidential Center, including the underground parking garage on the Midway and the closure of Cornell Drive envisioned by President Obama;
  • plans for the golf course “transformation”;
  • the status of Project 120’s proposed visitors pavilion/outdoor music venue.

Obama Presidential Center

As time has passed without more information about President Obama’s proposals for the OPC, community anxieties and grumblings have increased. New attention is being paid to “site creep” issues, fueled by the soil borings on the Midway space identified by Obama as his hoped-for underground parking garage (not to be paid for by the Obama Foundation). Nothing certain is known about future parking garage plans as yet.

The proposed Cornell Drive closure continues to cause consternation as people try to envision alternate traffic arrangements and raise safety concerns, especially related to the young children (and accompanying adults) at neighboring schools, the students at Hyde Park Academy and University students and staff. Fearing a worsening of an already difficult situation, other voices are raising concerns about the southbound rush hour traffic that already exits LSD at 53rd (or sooner) and travels over small, residential streets. Reports indicate that the Obama Foundation – or CDOT, or IDOT – is conducting traffic studies.

The golf course “transformation” project

Public release of the report of the engineering study related to the golf course redesign continues to be pushed back. Once slated for the end of March, the latest hoped-for release date is now early July.

Various reports suggest that the total costs of infrastructure requirements uncovered during the engineering study plus the golf course work itself may be substantially more than anticipated. There are signs that golf course plans are in part contingent on decisions concerning the OPC and Cornell Drive.

Pavilion/music venue “not going to happen”

JPW has heard repeatedly that the Project 120 proposal for a pavilion with an outdoor music venue was on the “back burner.” When asked about the proposal at a recent meeting, Alderman Hairston said “Project 120 is not going to happen.” This is good news! JPW will continue to monitor the situation to ensure that this particular phoenix does not rise from the ashes.

Comprehensive planning for Jackson Park

As noted, the Park District and City have called for “community conversations” about the future of Jackson Park and South Shore. Understandably, there is considerable community skepticism about whether this will be a legitimate process or instead will be a sham, a cover for approval of plans already made. Here is what JPW had to say at the June 14 meeting of the Park District Board.

Here are some elements we believe to be necessary for an effective public process:

  • It must start with a public acknowledgement by the Park District and the other entities that some of the plans developed to date may need to be changed in response to community concerns.
  • It must include multiple public meetings, in a variety of venues, publicized well in advance of the meeting dates, open to all of the members of the relevant communities, with opportunities for community stakeholders to comment on the proposed changes and to identify and advocate for priority needs left unmet (e.g., a new Jackson Park fieldhouse, repairs to bike and pedestrian paths with potholes).
  • It must include responses to those comments, questions, and concerns.
  • It must provide systematic presentations about the various projects separately as well as a vision of how the projects will fit together and be integrated into the park as a whole.
  • It must include discussion of how these projects will impact the communities around the park with regard to such issues as traffic patterns, congestion, parking, and noise.
  • It must provide credible information about sources of funding, including the costs to taxpayers, as well as realistic time lines.
  • Given that there are several significant entities involved, it must provide clarity about who is in charge of realizing the integrated vision for Jackson Park. Who is accountable? Is it the Park District? the City?

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid