Jackson Park Watch Update – August 27, 2017

About Those CDOT Roads Proposals

Jackson Park Watch along with many others welcomes the Obama Presidential Center to the South Side and looks forward to the exciting civic engagement, community involvement, and educational programming that it promises to bring.   Along with many others, though, JPW did not know until May that massive – and massively expensive – road closures, widenings, and relocations were to be part of the package when the City moved to give a 21-acre site in Jackson Park to the Obama Foundation. Jackson Park Watch (along, again, with many others) spent much time at the CDOT open-house meetings on August 23 and 24 at the South Shore Cultural Center. Here is our take after inspecting the drawings of road closures, widenings, and realignments that CDOT is proposing for Jackson Park.

One reason given for closing Cornell Drive between 60th and 63rd Streets, as President Obama desires, was to add parkland, and that it does.  But at the same time, much parkland would be lost to widening both Lake Shore Drive and Stony Island Avenue and making the other changes needed to accommodate the Cornell closure, and CDOT is working to demonstrate there will be no net parkland loss in Jackson Park. The Obama Foundation’s new assertion of control over 3-4 acres at the eastern tip of the Midway Plaisance for the construction of a parking garage makes that task harder. Further, there has been no progress on fulfilling the commitment to find 21 acres of suitable, local land to replace the Jackson Park land the City has given to the Obama Center.

Although no one will say, estimates are certainly out there.  A recent article quotes a City Hall source as saying it would in the realm of $100 million-plus; another details some of the expenditures city taxpayers would pick up.  Each report notes Mayor Emanuel’s effort to deflect of questions about actual cost estimates by asserting that he was focused on the “forest, not the individual trees” – an ironic comment given the number of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of mature trees that will be cut down to make way for the Obama Presidential Center and the reconfiguration of the adjacent golf course. As more and more Chicagoans find out what costs and benefits are actually entailed, we will see what they conclude.

If CDOT assumptions and numbers are right, it could work — albeit it with much grumbling — until the “new normal” is finally accepted.  But if those assumptions and numbers are wrong, traffic headaches could multiply for years, especially if Woodlawn and South Shore and the South Works areas experience the promised residential growth and economic development.  The Obama Presidential Center itself could be mired in traffic gridlock.  But this would be no pilot project – there would be no going back. Overall the planning process for these major infrastructure investments around Jackson Park is notably rushed compared to the extended planning being done for Northside projects such as the rebuild of North Lakeshore Drive. It would be better to take the time to get it right.

It has all the signs of a “done deal,” long in the planning, even though CDOT staff assert they are “just beginning” and have many problems still to address.   We note that the displays assume that a new “southlakefront framework plan” is already in place containing all of the road changes, the OPC, and the proposed golf course, underscoring the cursory nature of the “community input” involved. That said, CDOT has put together a plausible scenario entailing massive road changes and huge public expenditures.  It has shown some flexibility on resolving minor details, but none on the overall major thrust. The plan could be snarled up in some regulatory reviews.  Or Chicagoans could decide it’s not worth the price tag. The fact that our Mayor feels compelled to defend the expenditure even before we know the final tab shows that potential.

Details and Questions about the CDOT Proposals

Below is a summary overview of the major proposed changes.

You can see full details at https://southlakefrontplan.com/cdot-community-meetings-transportation-mobility-823-824 . There are two versions: a slide show and copies of the poster boards displayed at the SSCC meetings. We recommend the Boards version for the most detail about what is proposed to date.

  • Widen Stony Island: Add two lanes to Stony, taking from parkland to the east. Add a median (a.k.a. “pedestrian refuge”). All-day parallel parking on both sides.   As is now the case, no stop lights or stop signs between 60th and 63rd; a traffic light to be added at 64th.

Some questions: Would widening Stony Island encourage faster driving? Would there be pedestrian safety issues with the increased traffic? Should there be a stop sign at 62nd Street to serve residents who live directly across from the OPC? Would a wider Stony Island inhibit neighborhood access to the Obama Presidential Center and to Jackson Park generally?

  • Widen Lake Shore Drive: Add one southbound lane to Lake Shore Drive between 57th and Hayes Drive/63rd by taking land from the west (park) side. This would entail widening underpasses at 59th and just north of Hayes and widening the bridge with its historic façade that spans the connection between the lake and the 59th harbor.

Some questions: How would the widening affect the environmental restoration work done by the US Army Corps of Engineers along the western edge of LSD? Would there be financial penalties for disturbing that work? How would the widening affect the Lawn Bowling facility, whose fence is now right at the edge of LSD?   Would the bike/pedestrian path between LSD and the golf driving range be affected?

  • Change Hayes:. Make Hayes four lanes by banning all parking along Hayes. Add a concrete barrier to separate the two directions. Enlarge intersection turns at LSD, Richards, and Cornell. Add a traffic light at Richards. Possibility of a pedestrian underpass under Hayes, but location not determined.

Some questions: Hayes is now heavily used for parking by local residents who are playing soccer, golf or basketball or going to the beach, and tour buses park along the drive while school kids and tourists are at MSI. Where would all these people and buses go? Would users of the three parking lots along Hayes be able to enter and exit those facilities easily and safely? Would the elongated “S” curve between LSD and Cornell, marked with three traffic lights, be a Southside version of the much maligned “S” curve by the Oak Street beach?

  • Re-do 59th and 60th St. intersections with Stony Island. Remove stop lights at 59th and 60th. Prohibit turning north onto Stony from 59th and 60th and prohibit turning into either of those streets from the northbound lanes of Stony. CDOT staff are considering allowing a right turn from 59th onto southbound Stony that is not shown on the current boards.

Some questions: Would pedestrians crossing to the OPC from the proposed Obama Foundation parking garage cause traffic slowdowns? What would be the impact on neighborhood residents and on children being walked and driven to and from the Lab Lower School and the adjacent daycare facility?

  • Re-do connections between the Midway, Stony Island and Cornell: Close eastbound Midway between Stony Island and Cornell, forcing northbound traffic to turn left onto Stony Island and then immediately right onto what would be an expanded two-way, four-lane road (formerly the westbound connector) between Stony Island and Cornell.

Some questions: Could this new configuration accommodate all the traffic being forced into another “S” curve, this one tight and interrupted by a traffic light? As above, would pedestrians crossing to the OPC from the proposed Obama Foundation parking garage cause traffic slowdowns? And what would be the impact of traffic (including buses) associated with the garage?

No doubt you can think of many more questions that need to be answered before these proposals are approved.

What you can do

As always, please feel free to share this Update widely and to post it on google groups, e-lists, or other shared sites.

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid
Jackson Park Watch co-coordinators


Jackson Park Watch Update – August 18, 2017


RECENT TOP NEWS: At a meeting on Tuesday evening 8/15, it was revealed that the Obama Foundation has now decided to fund and construct its wished-for underground parking garage between the Metra and Stony Island and the two arms of the Midway. More about that meeting below.

In this Issue: All About Meetings – and they matter! Numbers are counted, comments are tallied.

Concerned about those proposals to close Cornell Drive, “improve” Lake Shore Drive and Hayes, and take out Marquette? The Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) is hosting two identical open-house charette-type meetings to “present potential transportation investments to mitigate the impact of proposed closures.”

Date:   Wednesday, August 23, and Thursday, August 24
Time: 4 – 8 pm, both days (an hour is probably ample time)
Location: South Shore Cultural Center

Expect to see numerous depictions and images. Things to look for include:

  • information on the costs of these changes and who will pay;
  • information on the timelines for phasing in these changes so as to avoid traffic chaos;
  • details on any widening of Lake Shore Drive or Hayes and any impact on the recent US Army Corps GLFER plantings;
  • details about any changes to Stony Island Avenue;
  • provisions for parking to accommodate OPC visitors (but remember that the Obama Foundation has now said it plans on funding and building an underground parking garage on the east end of the Midway);
  • information on the impact of these changes on park spaces and recreational facilities       and on mature trees and other plantings.

What you can do: Be there! There will be opportunities to make comments, both verbally and in writing. Be sure to do so.


At last, some information about the Darrow Bridge reconstruction! CDOT , in cooperation with Alderman Leslie Hairston, is also hosting a meeting next week about the Darrow Bridge reconstruction project (known to CDOT as the Columbia Bridge). It will also have a charette-type format with concept drawings, maps, and aerial photography. CDOT staff will answer questions, discuss plans and take comments. Information about the construction schedule will be available.

Date:   Tuesday, August 22
Time: 5-7 pm
Location: Jackson Park Field House, 6401 S. Stony Island Ave.

What you can do: Again, be there. Ask questions.


In other meeting news, on August 15 the Obama Foundation hosted an invitation-only “Landscape Design Forum” for community members and representatives of a variety of organizations and interests. JPW was there for what turned out to be a lively discussion with lots of questions and alternate proposals. The design presented was a slightly modified version of first unveiled on May 3 and shown in subsequent “Community Conversations” meetings.

As noted above, the major new piece of information was the revelation that the Obama Foundation would itself build an underground parking garage on the Midway Plaisance, with a projected capacity of 400-450 cars and a landscaped roof. Other discussion topics and themes following the design presentation included:

  • Traffic congestion and noise, with concerns especially by those living adjacent to the OPC site.
  • The integration of the OPC campus into the Park, with repeated requests that attention be paid to the special status of the natural areas of the Wooded Island and its lagoons , which are respites for residents and migratory birds. (The designers confirmed that the plan would remove most of the trees currently on the site, while saying that more trees would be planted.)
  • Discussions of activity areas on the campus, such as a children’s playlot. Many urged that they be natural rather than traditional, quiet rather than loud.
  • Many spoke against the loss of the perennial garden that anchors the connection between Jackson Park and the Midway Plaisance, which was lauded as an iconic feature and part of the cultural fabric of the neighborhood.
  • Many called for clarification of how the proposed athletic center relates to and integrates with the adjacent Jackson Park Fieldhouse and the Southside Y.
  • Note was taken of the expanding footprint of the OPC campus, now to include not only the perennial garden site but also the end of the Midway Plaisance. Obama Foundation Vice President for Civic Engagement Michael Strautmanis said that the spatial shifts reflected in the design would have to be approved by the City.

What you can do: Share your comments and questions with Michael Strautmanis, VC for Civic Engagement, at mstrautmanis@obamapresidentialfoundation.org.   Ask him when the Obama Foundation will have public meetings.


Finally, a meeting of a very different sort: The Obama Library Community Benefits Agreement Coalition hosted a “Sustainability & Transportation Forum” 8/16 with over 100 in attendance. A number of community leaders spoke about issues related to plans for Jackson Park, the impact of the Obama Presidential Center on the surrounding communities, and the need for and feasibility of a Community Benefits Agreement. Participants broke into groups to identify key questions about Parks, Green Jobs and Building, and Transportation, plans that will be conveyed to the Mayor’s Office. One interesting note: Deputy Mayor Andrea Zopp attended, telling JPW’s Margaret Schmid that “a lot of people care very passionately about these issues.”

What you can do: For more information and/or to become a supporter, visit http://www.obamacba.org/


As always, please feel free to share this Update widely and to post it on google groups, e-lists, or other shared sites.

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid, Jackson Park Watch co-coordinators

Jackson Park Watch Update – August 10, 2017

Greetings, all!

MORE IMPORTANT MEETINGS!  Be there to raise your questions and concerns!

COMMUNITY MEETING, WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 16.   The “Get It In Writing” Obama Library CBA Coalition is hosting a Forum on Sustainability and Transportation.  Speakers will include FOTP’s Juanita Irizarry, CDOT Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld (invited) and Naomi Davis of Blacks In Green.  It is at St. Phillip Neri school, 2110 E. 72nd St., 6-8 p.m.

TWO CITY-SPONSORED PUBLIC MEETINGS ON CDOT ROAD CLOSURE/”IMPROVEMENT” PLANS, AUGUST 23 AND AUGUST 24.  Just announced, these two identical meetings will feature “design concepts” of CDOT-proposed changes in area roads and intersections along with chances for community members to “review, discuss and provide comments on design concepts” according to the Park District announcement.  The meetings, to be in an open house format, will be at the South Shore Cultural Center and will run from 4 to 8 p.m. each day.

In other news:

  • JPW to Deputy Mayor Andrea Zopp: where is the community process?  where is the factual information?
  • Spotlight on birders’ concerns
  • JPW expands its investigations

JPW to Zopp

Last week JPW wrote the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance and Park District CEO Mike Kelly posing a set of critical questions that need to be answered.  This week JPW wrote Deputy Mayor Andrea Zopp.  Zopp had opened the first of the City-sponsored ‘Community Conversations” meetings, saying it was the beginning of a dialogue with the community and that “I am here to listen.” JPW’s letter asked: where is the dialogue?  what about the needed public information?  when are the public meetings?  Just coincidentally, perhaps, good news – the CDOT meetings (above) were announced the very next day!  (The full letter to Zopp appears at the end of this Update.)

Birders speak out

Birders’ concerns about plans for the Obama Presidential Center and the expanded golf course merger were featured in a recent Tribune article.  Thanks to the birders for raising their voices on these key questions about the future of Jackson Park – and birds.

JPW expands its investigations

In light of the seeming rush to take the Obama Presidential Center plans to the Chicago Plan Commission in November of this year, a body virtually assured to approve them, JPW has begun to investigate how the Plan Commission works and what follow-up investigations, permitting, reviews, etc., would have to occur.  JPW is checking on what the Lakefront Protection Ordinance provides, what steps would be required to close Cornell Drive or expand Lake Shore Drive, what environmental permits might be required for the golf course merger/expansion, and more.  Stay tuned.

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid, Jackson Park Watch co-coordinators


(To unsubscribe from this g-list, simply send “unsubscribe” to Jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com)


August 8, 2017

Deputy Mayor Andrea Zopp

Via e-mail


In our July 6 letter to you we noted how encouraged we had been by your opening statement that the “Community Conversations on the Future of Jackson and South Shore Parks were to be the start of a dialogue with the community on the development of a new “framework plan” for the parks and by your assurance that “We are here to listen.”  We then noted our subsequent disappointment and frustration as the stage-managed meetings provided few opportunities for full community input or true dialogue. In response, you said in a July 12 letter: “We will use the information gathered at these meetings to guide the framework planning process. . . . and later this summer, additional community meetings will be held so that we can provide the community with an update on the process and provide more detailed answers to the questions raised during the first series of meetings.”

Now – four weeks later – there has been no public announcement of additional meetings and no clarification of the next steps in the framework planning process.   The “Planning Process & Schedule” shown as part of the power point presentations at the “Community Conversations” and still displayed on the South Lakefront Framework Plan website identifies July and August as the period designated to “develop the vision, planning principles and goals, and program for the study area through public input and group discussions.” Where is that additional public input?  Where are those group discussions? We are aware that the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance has been meeting with selected community groups, but how have they been chosen?  And what groups have the Park District, the Chicago Department of Transportation, and the Obama Foundation been meeting with? How were they selected?  How representative are they?  And what data have they been given to review?   Where is the open, public process that is appropriate for consideration of changes to public parks?

This lack of an open process is all the more alarming given the accelerated timetable designed to present the Obama Foundation proposal to the Chicago Plan Commission in November.  The “visioning” period is more than half over, with no announced avenues for legitimate community engagement. Likewise, there is no announced schedule for public discussions in September and October. The lack of transparency around the South Lakefront Framework Plan process continues to prompt cynicism and distrust.  Many are concerned that the City’s “Planning Process & Schedule” does not allow for credible or effective community input on any of the major changes to the Park and is intended simply to allow the City – and the Obama Foundation – to say, “look, see, we did consult the community!”

As we said in our July 6 letter, however, it is not too late to rectify the situation.  Important next steps would be the release in the near future of the most current plans for the golf course design, the road closures/improvements, and the Obama Presidential Center site, all of which would presumably reflect responsiveness to recent community comments.  Back-up documentation such as traffic counts and studies and cost estimates for the golf course and road changes and the sources of the funding should accompany these revised plans.  You should schedule and widely publicize a series of community meetings at which those detailed plans would be considered and which would include facilitated small group discussions to address not only these three projects but also to encourage consideration of other key park issues – for example, the need for a new fieldhouse in Jackson Park. These meetings should be announced with enough advance notice to allow even greater numbers of community members to participate.

Further, the City and Park District announced the ‘Community Conversations” meeting as the beginning of the development of a new framework plan for Jackson and South Shore Parks.  Some, however, suspect that the underlying motive was to fast track approval of the golf course plan and in particular plans for the Obama Presidential Center and the related road closures and “improvements.”  As a gesture of goodwill and in recognition of the importance of community engagement in the development of this framework plan, the Obama Foundation and the City should publicly state their willingness to defer submission of the Obama Presidential Center plans to the Plan Commission until all relevant information has been publicly released and the community has had a proper chance to review and comment on it.   Additionally, the City and the Obama Foundation should commit to continuing to participate in the development of a new, comprehensive South Lakefront Framework Plan.  The rush to approve the OPC should not distort or undercut the larger goal.


Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid
Coordinators, Jackson Park Watch


Mayor Rahm Emanuel, David Simas, Chief Executive Officer, Obama Foundation,,Michael Strautmanis, Vice President of Civic Engagement, Obama Foundation, Michael Kelly, CEO, Chicago Park District, Jesse Ruiz, Board President, Chicago Park District, Michael Ruemmler, Co-Founder and Director, Chicago Parks Golf Alliance, Brian Hogan, Co-Founder and Director, Chicago Parks Golf Alliance, Rebekah Scheinfeld, Commissioner, Chicago Department of Transportation, Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th Ward), Ald. Sophia King (4th Ward), Ald. Willie Cochran (20th Ward), Ald. Greg Mitchell (7th Ward), Toni Preckwinkle, Cook County Board President, , Sen. Kwame Raoul (Illinois State Senate 13th District),Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (Illinois State House 25th District) ,Rep. Christian Mitchell (Illinois State House 26th District), Rep. Bobby Rush (US House IL 1st District), Rep. Robin Kelly (US House IL 2nd District), Friends of the Parks Executive Director Juanita Irizarry, Openlands President Jerry Adelmann, Editor, The Chicago Sun-Times, Editor, The Chicago Tribune, Editor, Hyde Park Herald

Jackson Park Watch Update – August 3, 2017

SPECIAL GOLF COURSE ANNIVERSARY EDITION: recapping the situation, highlighting the questions, calling for action

Greetings, all!

It was just one year ago today that Chicago Park District CEO Mike Kelly e-mailed Mayor Rahm Emanuel, saying, “We have an opportunity to transform Jackson Park golf course (1899) and South Shore golf course (1907) into the strongest urban golf site the PGA has seen in 25 years. …”  The message, which was sent to the Mayor’s personal e-mail account and was later revealed by a Better Government Association investigation, continued with Kelly’s admonition to the Mayor that “it is critical for YOU that this project has the support of the Obama Foundation and the surrounding community.  Furthermore, the community should initiate the request to improve the golf courses.”

Controversy:  Elimination of current recreational and natural areas:  Today the plan referenced in that e-mail, the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance proposal for a merger, redesign and expansion of the Jackson Park and South Shore courses, is mired in controversy.  While the CPGA and Mike Kelly had repeatedly said the new course would remain within the footprints of the existing golf courses, when the proposed new design was finally released on June 21 it instead showed a major expansion.

The proposed golf course would take out numerous well-used recreational facilities and natural areas— tennis courts, baseball diamonds, basketball courts, the Nature Sanctuary adjacent to the South Shore Cultural Center, and the south side’s only dog park.  This vast expansion beyond the current golf courses is itself a major cause of the controversy.  In response, CPGA spokesmen and the Park District have made vague statements about replacements elsewhere, but these that have been received with considerable skepticism. If anything, community opposition to the elimination of existing, well utilized, and accessible natural and recreational facilities in favor of a golf course designed primarily for affluent golfers, most of whom live elsewhere, is growing. As the Chicago Sun-Times recently headlined its editorial assessment of the proposal:  South Side golf course plan full of holes.

Controversy: Basic financial information unavailable: A further reason for growing dissatisfaction in the surrounding community and among city taxpayers more broadly is the virtually complete absence of any financial information about the project.  What would the various components cost: changes to the courses, construction of the underpasses, construction of the new clubhouse and of the winter golf practice facility, road closures, replacement of lost recreational facilities and natural areas? What are the projected sources of funding? Who would pay for what?  What would it cost city taxpayers?

Beyond construction costs, also lacking is any information on the business plan for operating the course.  How many pro golf tournaments are projected and how frequently?  What revenues would these bring, and who would keep the revenue?  Since the CPGA is seeking private funding for parts of this project and since potential donors would certainly insist on full financial disclosure about the viability of the project, much of this information has to exist, but it has yet to be made public.  Absent any of this vital information, CPGA and the Park District are saying in essence “trust us, it will be great.” Maybe so, maybe not. Only actual data can answer the questions.

Controversy: Pledge to current golfers lacks credibility absent data: Also inexplicable is the CPGA’s continuing failure to release the one piece of information that could confirm its pledge to keep the new golf course affordable and accessible to local golfers: the projected greens fees schedule and cart fees for various days of the week, and for different classes of golfers – i.e., resident and non-resident; senior; and league members – not only for the first year, but for five years and further into the future.  For how long with the Park District commit providing caddies “at no extra charge” to golfers, a benefit CEO Kelly recently disclosed?  Which golfers would be eligible for caddies at no charge and for how long/

Controversy: Public policy impact: Jackson Park Watch is quite concerned about the potential discriminatory impact of the proposed elite, expensive golf course project on the continuing availability of public recreational benefits in the neighborhoods served by Jackson Park and South Shore. As things now stand, the proposed golf course project would have a major adverse impact on these communities in two ways:  (i) by depriving community members of existing, well-utilized recreational facilities and natural areas without any equivalent, acceptable, accessible replacements; and (ii) in the absence of credible data and written guarantees, by depriving local golfers of regular, convenient, and affordable access to these well-run and much-loved municipal golf courses.

What to doJackson Park Watch is sending this assessment as a letter to the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance and to Park District CEO Mike Kelly calling on them to immediately take several steps:

  • release all financial information needed to assess the feasibility and viability of the project;
  • release the projected greens fees and other pricing for the first five years of the new course’s operation – data essential to assessing their pledge  to keep the course affordable and accessible for local golfers, and
  • right-size the dimensions of the proposed new golf course within the footprints of the current courses so as to preserve the existing recreational facilities and natural areas.

You can join in:  Voice your concerns and/or support our call for information by e-mailing any or all of those listed below.  As always, please feel free to share this widely and to post this on e-lists and googlegroups.

Park District CEO Mike Kelly  — Michael.Kelly@chicagoparkdistrict.com
CPGA Co-Founder and Director Brian Hogan – bhogan@chicagoparksgolfalliance.org
CPGA Co-Founder and Director Michael Ruemmler – mruemmler@chicagoparksgolfalliance.org
Mayor Rahm Emanuel – rahm.emanuel@cityofchicago.org
Deputy Mayor Andrea Zopp – andrea.zopp@cityofchicago.org
Alderman Leslie Hairston – leslie.hairston@cityofchicago.orgward05@cityofchicago.org
The Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board – letters@suntimes.com
The Chicago Tribune Editorial Board — ctc-tribletter@chicagotribune.com
The Hyde Park Herald Editor – letters@hpherald.com

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid, Jackson Park Watch co-coordinators