Jackson Park Watch Update – July 24, 2017

Greetings all,

IMPORTANT MEETING THIS TUESDAY NIGHT (JULY 25): Community Forum on South Side Development at the Experimental Station, 7-9 p.m.

This will be a key opportunity for community members to raise concerns and express their views .. Be there! Jamie Kalven will moderate. The Experimental Station is at 6100 S. Blackstone Ave. You can register through Facebook exp.st/ssdevelopment or just show up, but note the warning that seating may be limited.

Friends of the Parks op-ed on target

Friends of the Parks Executive Director Juanita Irizarry was right on target in her recent op-ed in Crain’s Chicago Business (appended below). She echoed JPW concerns with the rushed process to push through plans for the much expanded golf course and potentially unworkable road closures.  She also importantly highlighted the difference between the lengthy, careful attention being lavished on improvements to North Lake Shore Drive and the hurry-up process the City and Park District are trying to impose on the South Side for major changes to South Lake Shore Drive and its extensions.

Traffic numbers: Are these credible?

The Chicago Department of Transportation has finally given some initial projections about how it will accommodate the Obama Foundation’s desire to close Cornell Drive between 59th and Hayes Dr./63rd St. No surprise to many that CDOT Commissioner Scheinfeld had reassuring words about keeping commute times manageable, saying “Our current analysis shows we’re in shooting distance of that.” Skeptics can be pardoned if they note that the CDOT’s own numbers show traffic would increase on Stony Island by some 40% and on Hayes Drive by close to 400%, making a smooth transition more than a bit unlikely. Interesting question: would visitors to the Obama Presidential Center find themselves stuck in traffic?

Mike Kelly lists recreational facilities to be lost

A recent DNAInfo piece not only noted confusion about potential new indoor basketball facilities as a part of the Obama Presidential Center, but also gave Park District CEO Mike Kelly’s own tally of recreational facilities to be lost to Jackson Park users as result of the golf project now being championed by the Park District, the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance, and the City: 21 or more tennis courts and 6 of the 8 baseball diamonds now in the Park would to be taken out. As was the case with the South Shore Nature Sanctuary and Jackson Bark dog park, also to be eliminated by this project, Kelly dismissed these sports facilities as underused.

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid

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Jackson Park Watch Update – July 19, 2017

Greetings all,

Community voices finally heard on July 13

The final “Community Conversations” meeting last Thursday was well attended, with some 200 very engaged participants. In a welcome change from the previous City-led “Community Conversations,” the meeting ended with a two-hour session led by Alderman Leslie Hairston that provided an opportunity for residents to express directly their concerns and questions about the changes to Jackson and South Shore Parks proposed by the Obama Foundation, the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance, and the Chicago Department of Transportation.

After the presentations, which were a rerun of those given at the three prior meetings residents lined up for over two hours to voice their comments and questions about the rerouting of traffic to accommodate the closure of Cornell Drive, the loss of park space and recreational facilities, the expanded footprints of the golf course and the OPC, the rushed schedule for approving the proposed changes, and the planners’ misleading assertions that the current parks are underused and therefore in need of radical change. Many spoke also about the impact of the proposed changes on the surrounding communities and expressed support for a Community Benefits Agreement to hold the City and the Obama Foundation accountable for promises made about economic development, affordable housing, and other community issues.

Alderman Hairston repeatedly assured attendees that there are no “done deals” – that she would not be hosting a three-hour session if in fact all the decisions had already been made. Picking up on the many frustrations expressed about incomplete plans and inadequate information, Hairston reminded the three presenters that the public needed detailed, substantive proposals for review, not just schematic concepts.   But neither the alderman nor any of the presenters could say what comes next.

(FYI: Reports of the meeting appeared in the Hyde Park Herald, DNAInfo, and the Sun-Times. Also of interest is the information distributed at the meeting by supporters seeking to preserve the South Shore Nature Sanctuary and by birding enthusiasts advancing an ecological vision for Jackson Park.)

Next steps?

What does come next? To date the City, the Park District and the Obama Foundation have failed to provide any substantive information about the remaining phases of this hastily announced “framework planning process,” other than the intention to conclude the whole process by October in order to allow the Obama Foundation to seek Chicago Plan Commission approval in November.

Instead of providing meaningful information, Deputy Mayor Andrea Zopp, in her July 12 response to JPW’s open letter requesting a real framework planning process merely said: “[A]dditional community meetings will be held so that we can provide the community with an update on the process and provide detailed answers to the questions raised during this first series of meetings.” (See attachment for full letter.) Rather than the kind of extended discussion and robust community engagement that JPW has called for, this sounds like more of the same top-down process intended to fast-track approval of the plans presented so far with only minor tweaks.

We hope that last Thursday’s meeting will have convinced the City and the Park District that more, not less, discussion is needed and that the community demands an authentic framework planning process with results that are consistent with community desires. What is done in the coming five years will define Jackson and South Shore parks and their communities for the coming half century or more. The City, the Park District, and the Obama Foundation need to take the time to get it right.

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid

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Jackson Park Watch Update – July 1, 2017

Greetings, all,

Latest news: Alderman Hairston has scheduled the promised follow-up to last Tuesday’s over-capacity “Community Conversations” meeting for Thursday, July 13, at 6:00 p.m. at the South Shore Cultural Center. If you haven’t yet been to one of the “Community Conversations” meetings, be there! If you have been already, be there! Bring your family, friends, and neighbors. A huge turnout is vital. Be ready to make your voice heard!

Other Topics Today:
Media coverage of the “Community Conversations” meetings to date
The golf course proposal
Traffic and parking issues
The Process: Was it really “listening” and were these really just “concepts”?

No doubt many of you were at one or more of the “Community Conversations” meetings just concluded. Well over 1,000 community members participated, not including the estimated 160 who were turned away due to what the Hyde Park Herald referred to as a scheduling “mishap” at this past Tuesday’s meeting. (Alderman Hairston pledged to hold another meeting, and, as noted above, it is now scheduled for July 13. ) For those who weren’t there or want to review the presentations, go to www.southlakefrontplan.com and look under “Project/Documents” for the slide shows that were presented at the three meetings, including the much expanded golf course proposal, the Obama Presidential Center site plan, and planned road closures and “improvements.”

Media coverage

The series of meetings received much media attention. You may want to check these links below.

  • Blair Kamin’s thoughtful commentary on the continuing lack of coordination in planning for Jackson Park and its negative consequences.
  • Expressions of concern about the golf proposal’s threat to the nature sanctuary at the South Shore Cultural Center.
  • Community concerns about the proposed obliteration of Jackson Bark by the expanded golf driving range.
  • Coverage in the Tribune and the Herald of the chaotic Tuesday meeting where the turnout greatly exceeded the capacity of the meeting space.

 Expanded golf course proposal

As the meetings progressed and community concerns about the much expanded golf course proposal and its impact on existing natural areas and recreational facilities became clear, Jackson Park Watch took a stand against the golf proposal as it now stands, releasing this statement to the Tuesday 6/27 meeting:

“While supporting the idea of improving the existing golf course, Jackson Park Watch opposes the massively expanded golf course proposal that goes far beyond the current golf course footprint and would take out the nature area adjacent to the South Shore Cultural Center, two basketball courts, two sets of tennis courts, a soccer playing field and a baseball diamond, as well as the area’s only dog park, Jackson Bark.”

We have prepared a fact sheet (see attachment below) providing significant detail about the golf course proposal and its many problematic aspects. We encourage you not only to take a look but also to share it widely and to write or call City and Park District officials if you share JPW’s concerns.

Traffic and parking

More information about proposed road closures and “improvements” was released over the series of meeting by Chicago Department of Transportation Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld. While the list of proposed closures and “improvements” was lengthy, actual details about the changes, the costs and who would pay, the timing, impacts on traffic circulation and parking arrangements in the park and beyond, and other key matters were few and far between.

While JPW knows that the traffic studies are complete and under review by the Park District and others, they have not been released to the public. Consequently, JPW has created a traffic and parking fact sheet (see attachment below). Again, we encourage you to take a look, share it widely, and, if you agree, call or write the people listed.


Each of the “Community Conversations” meetings started with a welcome statement from either Deputy Mayor Andrea Zopp (Wednesday 6/21), another representative of the Mayor’s office (Saturday 6/24), or Park District Vice-President Avis LaVelle (Tuesday 6/27), all insisting that “we are here to listen” and that what the audiences would be hearing were “concepts,” not done deals. However, the presentations seemed to many to be finished products (despite the absence of detail), while the “listening” portions of the first meetings were heavily managed, asking audience members to respond to set questions and forced-choice options rather than soliciting actual opinions and alternate ideas. Alderman Hairston conducted the “input” segment of the Tuesday meeting in her own free-wheeling style, but there was not time or format for substantive discussion. South Siders being who we are, many in the audiences offered independent opinions and suggestions at all three meetings. But what comes next?

The schedule for development of the South Lakefront Framework Plan, as presented, runs from June to November and is comprised of four vaguely described phases. The first phase was the three (now to be four) “Community Conversations” scheduled with little advance notice and lacking in real details. As of last Tuesday, however, the City and Park District did not yet have a plan for the next step in the planning process – no information about the format, timing, location, or frequency of the public discussions that are absolutely essential for the definition of a collective vision for the future of Jackson Park. Jackson Park Watch continues its call for an open, transparent, and inclusive process that brings all stakeholders to the table in multiple, small-group sessions with full information about options and costs to consider the “concepts” that have been proposed.

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid

JPW Fact Sheet – Traffic & Parking July 1, 2017

Jackson Park Threatened: Traffic & Parking Proposals, Unanswered Questions

Download this fact sheet as a PDF…

The threat:

With the support of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the Chicago Department of Transportation, and the Chicago Park District, the Obama Foundation and the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance have proposed major changes made to roads in and around Jackson Park to accommodate the Obama Presidential Center and the golf course project. CDOT Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld presented the “concepts” listed below in recent community meetings, saying “I am here to listen.”

Jackson Park Watch calls for:

  • the traffic study results to be released in full;
  • public answers to key questions that have not been addressed (see below); and
  • further rounds of public input prior to decisions on any of these proposed changes.

Facts and unanswered questions:

  1. CDOT Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld listed the following proposed changes to the roads in and around Jackson Park:
  • Close Cornell Drive entirely from 59th Street to Hayes Drive and the northbound segment between 65th Street and 67th Street;
  • Close Midway Plaisance eastbound between Stony Island Avenue and Cornell Drive;
  • Close Marquette Drive between Stony Island Avenue and Richards Drive.
  1. In order to accommodate the new major north-south route [Lake Shore Drive to Hayes Drive to Cornell Drive (63rd to 65th) to Stony Island], Scheinfeld promised to make the following undefined “improvements”:
  • Improve Lake Shore Drive between 57th and Hayes Drive;
  • Improve turning at the interchanges at Hayes & LSD; at Hayes & Richards; and at Hayes & Cornell;
  • Convert Cornell Drive between Hayes and 65th/Stony Island for two-way traffic;
  • Reconfigure traffic flow & safety where the Midway Plaisance meets Stony Island;
  • Improve Stony Island (parameters not specified but presumably at least between 60th and 67th);
  • Construct connector underpasses under Jeffery Blvd between 67th and Marquette and under South Shore Drive near 67th Street to link golf course segments and provide pedestrian access to the lake shore.
  1. Key unanswered questions:
  • Costs of these major infrastructure projects:
    • Who is going to pay for this work? the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance? the Obama Foundation? Chicago taxpayers?
    • What others sources of funding are anticipated?
  • Timelines:
    • What are the timelines of each of these proposed changes, and how do they fit together?
    • What hearings, permits, environmental reviews, etc., will be needed, and when will these occur?
  • Specifics of proposed road “improvements”:
    • for Lake Shore Drive? (And what about the segment between Hayes and Marquette?)
    • for Hayes Drive between LSD and Cornell Drive? (What about the segment between Cornell and Stony?)
    • for key intersections along Hayes Drive and where the Midway meets Jackson Park?
    • for Stony Island?
  • Impact on traffic levels and circulation beyond the bounds of Jackson Park:
    • What will be the impact on 67th Street and residential streets directly south of the Park? on Jeffery, South Shore Drive, and other routes south of the Park besides Stony? on the Midway Plaisance? on residential streets north of the Park?
    • What improvements will there be to the intersections at 67th and South Shore and at the entrance to the South Shore Cultural Center?
  • Parking:
    • What are the parking plans for visitors to the OPC, for regular users of the golf course, and for the crowds expected for tournament events? How will tournament and school busses be handled?
    • What will be the impact on parking by neighborhood residents and workers at the University?
  • Public transportation
    • Given the balkanization of Chicago-area public services, shouldn’t representatives from both the CTA and Metra (in addition to CDOT) be included in all future discussions to address what improvements will be made to Metra and CTA services to the Jackson Park area?
  • Pedestrian and bicycle routes
    • How will pedestrians and bikers make their way safely through the reconfigured park?


  1. Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office. The Mayor appoints the Chicago Department of Transportation Commissioner. Deputy Mayor Andrea Zopp opened the first of the recent “community conversation” sessions saying “we are here to listen.” Let her (and the Mayor) know what you think at:e-mail: Andrea.Zopp@cityofchicago.org
  1. CDOT Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfelde-mail: Rebekah.Scheinfeld@cityofchicago.org
  1. Alderman Leslie Hairston.
    phone: 773-324-5555
    e-mail: ward05@cityofchicago.org

You can also enter your comments and concerns on the Park District’s special website https://southlakefrontplan.com/. However, do not expect to hear back or to know what has been done with your input, so do not make that your only line of communication.

JPW Fact Sheet: Golf Course Proposal July 1 2017

Jackson Park Threatened: the Golf Course Proposal

Download this fact sheet as a PDF…

The threat:

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his appointed Park District CEO Mike Kelly propose a significant expansion and merger of the Jackson Park and South Shore golf courses designed to benefit pro golfers who visit for infrequent championship-level tournaments at the expense of key recreational and natural areas used by Chicagoans on a regular basis. The proposed expanded golf course would eliminate a nature sanctuary adjacent to the South Shore Cultural Center, the Jackson Bark dog park, the only one on the south side, and two basketball courts, two sets of tennis courts, a soccer field, a baseball diamond, two playlots, and the riding arena at the SSCC.

Jackson Park Watch opposes the proposal:

Jackson Park Watch opposes the expanded golf course proposal, while welcoming improvements to the golf courses that stay within the current footprint, as originally announced.

If you share JPW concerns and don’t need to know more, skip to the end for people to write or call. But here is more detailed information:

  1. Where did this proposal come from?

The Mayor, Park District CEO Mike Kelly, and some golf course entrepreneurs developed this proposal out of public view, starting in 2015. Late in 2016 they created a public-private entity, the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance, to hire staff to promote the idea, do community outreach, and start fund-raising. The proposal – much more modest at the time and described as a “restoration” – was first announced, without details, in December, 2016.

  1. Would this “restoration” bring economic benefits to South Shore?

Promoters have repeatedly claimed that the golf course project would bring economic development to South Shore.  However, the expanded proposal locates a new golf course “pavilion” (a.k.a. club house) at Hayes (63rd) and Cornell Drive, not in South Shore, meaning that economic benefits for the 71st street commercial corridor near the South Shore Cultural Center would be near zero. Similarly, in response to questions about parking capacity, the promoters revealed that participants and spectators for major tournaments would be housed downtown and bussed to and from the tournament, eliminating time spent in the neighborhood outside the golf course area itself and thus any possible economic benefits.

  1. How much would this cost and who would pay?

The real answers are not known, nor is it known what portion would ultimately fall on Chicago taxpayers. The promoters have said that private funding would be raised for the golf course work itself, and their initial estimate for that work was $30 million, of which around $6 million would come from the Park District. In addition to that work on the course, there would be major public infrastructure projects: first, the needed shoreline restoration along the South Shore golf course lakefront, possibly involving the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, for which there is no current estimate; and second, the construction of two underpasses to link the golf course segments, unofficial estimates for which are steep. A cost projection of $30 million has gone unchallenged by the promoters, suggesting to some that the total cost could be far higher.

  1. The promoters claim this is carrying out plans established in the 1999-2000 “Framework” plan. Is this true?

The Framework plan envisioned golf course improvements but not a merger, not a PGA-level course, and certainly not an expansion.

  1. What about the impact on the natural areas? the nature sanctuary? trees? birding?

The expanded golf course and driving range proposals would take out hundreds if not over a thousand trees. It would dramatically cut back on the existing nature sanctuary adjacent to the South Shore Cultural Center (ironically, establishing the sanctuary was an goal of the 1999-2000 Framework plan). The promoters claim that new “natural areas” suited for bird-watching, picnicking or walking would be created in the interior of the golf course between the fairways but no details are available, and it is unclear how non-golfers would be able to use such areas safely on a general basis.

  1. What about the impact on existing recreational uses?

The expanded golf course and driving range proposals would take out two basketball courts at Cornell and Marquette Drives, two sets of tennis courts at Hayes (63rd) and Cornell Drive, a nearby soccer field and baseball diamond, two playlots along 67th Street, and the riding arena at South Shore, all well-used. It would also eliminate the area’s only dog park, the much loved Jackson Bark, located on an abandoned tennis court to the north of the driving range.

  1. The 1999 Framework plan and more recent proposals for reconfiguring uses in Jackson Park have all proposed relocating the driving range so that it would be adjacent to the golf course and making that space (a “great lawn” in Olmsted’s original plan) available to the general public for passive recreational uses. Early discussions by the Golf Alliance also included that idea. Why the change?

Golf course designer Beau Welling says that the driving range needs to kept where it is and expanded (thus eliminating Jackson Bark) because pro golfers who may use it on occasion need to practice longer shots.

  1. What about benefits to existing golfers?

Promoters of the expanded golf course proposal have secured the support of some existing golfers. Others, however, question whether the courses will continue to be affordable if this proposed projects moved ahead. Some also say that the courses are fine as they now are.

  1. What about youth golf programs?

Much has been made of the expanded youth golf programs the promoters promise. Such programs could and should continue without expanding the golf courses beyond their current footprints. Also, youth golf programs already operated by existing golf clubs have been sadly overlooked.

  1. Is this a golf course “restoration”?

The promoters continually insist that this is a golf course “restoration.” Given the expansion considerably beyond the original footprint and plans revealed by Mark Rolfing on June 24 to move earth and trees and reshape water features, that remains to be seen. Some are already looking to what additional reviews and regulations might be triggered by changes beyond “restoration.”


  1. Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office. The Mayor appoints the Park District CEO and Board members. Deputy Mayor Andrea Zopp opened the first of the recent “community conversation” sessions saying “we are here to listen.” Let her (and the Mayor) know what you think at:
    e-mail: Andrea.Zopp@cityofchicago.org
  1. Alderman Leslie Hairston.
    phone: 773-324-5555
    e-mail: ward05@cityofchicago.org
  1. Park District CEO Mike Kelly
    phone: 312-742-4200
    e-mail: Michael.Kelly@chicagoparkdistrict.com

You can also enter your comments and concerns on the Park District’s special website https://southlakefrontplan.com/. However, do not expect to hear back or to know what has been done with your input, so do not make that your only line of communication.