SPECIAL GOLF COURSE ANNIVERSARY EDITION: recapping the situation, highlighting the questions, calling for action
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 do: Jackson 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 – firstname.lastname@example.org
CPGA Co-Founder and Director Michael Ruemmler – email@example.com
Mayor Rahm Emanuel – firstname.lastname@example.org
Deputy Mayor Andrea Zopp – email@example.com
Alderman Leslie Hairston – firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com
The Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board – firstname.lastname@example.org
The Chicago Tribune Editorial Board — email@example.com
The Hyde Park Herald Editor – firstname.lastname@example.org
Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid, Jackson Park Watch co-coordinators