Jackson Park Watch Update – September 23, 2017

Greetings all,


The Park District is staging “open houses” to solicit comments about plans for the PGA golf course and for the many other facilities and activities that have been pretty much ignored in their earlier meetings on Monday 9/25 (South Shore Cultural Center) and Wednesday 9/27 (Stony Island Arts Bank, 6760 S. Stony Island) from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on both days.

Be sure to be there if you can. Expect lots of lovely images, we hope with up-to-date information. Come with lots of questions about the proposed PGA golf course — preserving the Nature Sanctuary, the impact on existing recreational facilities, how many trees would be cut down to build the new course, how much it would cost and who would pay for it, and more. Ask Park District staff members to get back to you with answers. Also come prepared to tell Park District staff about your other concerns and aspirations for both programming and improvements of existing facilities in Jackson Park, such as the urgent need for a new fieldhouse, for repair of decrepit bike and pedestrian paths and of flooded underpasses, for renovation and replacement of tennis courts and ball fields, for long deferred maintenance of the park after years of neglect.

If you are unable to attend either meeting, you can still submit your concerns and suggestions to the Park District at https://southlakefrontplan.com/contact-us.


  • Also on Monday, September 25, as reported by DNAInfo, David Simas, CEO of the Obama Foundation, will be appearing at the Harold Washington Library at 6 p.m. His presentation — billed as a conversation with CPL Commissioner Brian Bannon about Simas’ life and work, including the future plans of the Obama Foundation — is the Chicago Public Library’s 2017 Cindy Pritzker Lecture on Urban Life and Issues. Advance registration is requested.   For more information , see the Library
  • The ObamaCBA Coalition meeting on Wednesday 9/20 featured the announcement that the Coalition will pursue its quest for a Community Benefits Agreement with a new initiative: a City Ordinance. The meeting was reported in DNAInfo. Visit http://www.obamacba.org/ for more information. The editorial boards of the Sun-Times and the Herald as well as Tribune columnist Dahleen Glanton have weighed in on President Obama’s position on the CBA initiative

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid
Co-founders, Jackson Park Watch



Jackson Park Watch Update – September 18, 2017

Greetings all,


What happened?  Many of you were in attendance on Thursday evening when the Obama Foundation made its first solo public presentation of the conceptual design and emerging programmatic plans for the Obama Presidential Center (OPC).   We invite your comments, additions and corrections to this summary.

The energetic and well-orchestrated event, with an estimated 200+ in attendance, had the feel of a pep rally.  It opened with a boom as a contingent from the King High School marching band paraded through the conference hall, and the excitement was amplified by an unannounced appearance (via live streaming) by former President Obama.  The only questions allowed from the floor were the three selected for President Obama to address, but following the staged presentations, there was an opportunity for attendees to view posters and ask questions of architects and Foundation staffers about the designs and programs, though this segment was unfortunately abbreviated to accommodate the president’s participation.

Coverage of the event in the TribuneSun-Times , HeraldDNAInfoMaroon and elsewhere has focused mostly on President Obama’s remarks and especially his explanation of why the Obama Foundation will not sign a Community Benefits Agreement.  We will focus briefly instead on the presentations and poster board discussions that addressed more specifically Jackson Park Watch’s concern – the impact of the Obama Presidential Center on the future character and shape of Jackson Park.

  • Vision for the Park:  “Inspire and entertain” was the aspirational goal for the OPC once again voiced by President Obama and echoed by other speakers.   The programmatic offerings under development will reportedly range from museum coverage of Chicago and its African American history and of the Obama administration to a global training program in civic engagementfor young leaders to a welcoming community center for  Southsiders.  President  Obama spoke of his hope that the Center will be completely transformative in opening up Jackson Park, making it constantly active, in ways that he sees now in parks on the Northside but not on the Southside.
  • Site Creep:  Creating a unified museum campus linking the Obama Presidential Center directly with the Museum of Science and Industry was cited as the key goal driving the closure of Cornell Drive and the siting of the OPC northward beyond its originally allotted land.   Not given as a rationale for the site shift was the plan to convert the perennial garden into a water retention pond, although lead landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh did identify water management as the biggest site challenge for the designers.
  • Parking on Parkland: The design and location of the parking garage seem to be driven by the water table and the cost of digging down.  The lower of the proposed garage’s two levels might be slightly below grade but would definitely be 3-4 feet above the water table.   Meanwhile, the sloped roof would  rise above the level of the Metra tracks.  Sloped berms would partially cover the north and south walls of the garage and there would  be a plaza on the roof, but the structural essence of the garage would be very visible.
  • Traffic and golf:  The complicated traffic issues created by the closure of Cornell Drive were not addressed at all by members of the Obama Foundation team.  There was, however, a representative of CDOT present to showcase the preliminary proposals previously presented by CDOT in late August.  The proposed merger of the Jackson Park and South Shore golf courses received nomention in the presentations, and when asked about that initiative, Obama Foundation representatives stated emphatically that that is a separate, unrelated project.


What next?  Speak up, reach out.

Even this brief summary gives rise to some obvious questions that deserve discussion:

  • President Obama’s models for Jackson Park seem to be Millennium Park and Lincoln Park around the zoo, examples which he referenced directly when unveiling the OPC plans back in May.  Are these the best models for balancing the needs of tourists and local residents in Jackson Park?What would this mean for the green natural character of the Park? for Wooded Island?
  • There are other site options for the location of the water retention facility.  Why not utilize them?
  • Given that the proposed parking garage sets such an ominous precedent for the appropriation of parkland, why not utilize the option of an underground garage beneath the OPC campus as mentioned by President Obama on May 3, or perhaps under the relocated running track?

The many representatives of the Obama Foundation at Thursday’s meeting stressed repeatedly that the current plans are conceptual in nature – not finished, not final; the design team is just getting started and the plans are evolving every day.  JPW notes, however, that the site plan and sketches for the OPC presented Thursday night are mostly the same as those first unveiled in May. A few labels have changed and the design of the unfortunate now-above-ground parking garage on the Midway has been elaborated with the acknowledgement that it would be funded by the Obama Foundation.  But there have been no significant changes to the plan to reflect public or private comments of the past four months, no indication of any genuine community consultation.  We hope that, in keeping with the Center’s commitment to civic engagement, there will be the opportunity for real community engagement in the weeks and months ahead. The Obama Foundation says there will be other public meetings in the future.  We will watch for the schedule and will share it as soon as it is available.


What you can do: 

  • Raise your own questions; make your own suggestions.   Send them to Michael Strautmanis, Obama Foundation Vice President for Civic Engagement, at mstrautmanis@obamapresidentialfoundation.org.  Ask him to schedule a meeting with your community group.  Say that you look forward to his response.
  • Come to the Park District Open Houses on September 25 and 27 (see below for a revised and updated schedule) to ask your questions and offer your own vision of Jackson Park as part of the South Lakefront Framework Plan process.
  • Attend any public meetings the Obama Foundation may subsequently hold.  Look for information about such meetings in JPW Updates.




Please discard the misinformation that was provided in the September 11 Update and note the following dates, times, and locations on your calendar.

Meeting #1

When:  Monday, September 25
Time:   4:00 – 8:00 p.m.
Location: South Shore Cultural Center


Meeting #2

When:  Wednesday, September 27
Time:   4:00 – 8:00 p.m.
Location: Stony Island Arts Bank  (6760 S. Stony Island Avenue)

From the Park District’s press release :

“At these meetings, the Chicago Park District will present an update on the South Lakefront planning process and the Park District’s analysis of existing site conditions.  The goal of the meeting is to verify the guiding principles with the public and to vet the ideas that will structure the overall vision for the framework plan.  Topics to be discussed include active recreation, golf, passive recreation, water use and quality, arts and culture, and pedestrian and bicycle connectivity. The Park District will also address some of the questions that were raised in the first round of meetings and provide updates about ecology and programming opportunities in Jackson and South Shore Parks. In addition, the Park District will solicit input from community members and park users to help further develop a vision for future park improvements. Information collected will be used to guide the development of options for the area which will be presented in subsequent meetings.“

We expect that these meetings will follow the format of the August CDOT meetings at the South Shore Cultural Center – duplicates each day, with the possibility of stopping by at any time – but we will provide more information before the 25th.


Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid
Coordinators, Jackson Park Watch



Jackson Park Watch Update – September 11, 2017

Greetings, all:

We want to alert you to two more meetings where you can ask your questions and make your comments and suggestions about the proposals for Jackson Park directly to the powers that be.  Make your voices heard!


An Open House on the Obama Presidential Center (Finally!)

When: Thursday, September 14
Time:   5:00 p.m.*
Location: Hyatt Regency McCormick Place, Regency Ballroom (2233 S. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive)

The Obama Foundation is hosting its first public meeting on the design for the Obama Presidential Center and will also be seeking ideas on how the OPC can be a vital part of the South Side community and the greater Chicago area.  The Obama Foundation team presenting and listening at the meeting will include Michael Strautmanis, Vice President of Civic Engagement; Museum Director, Louise Bernard; lead architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien; and lead landscape designer Michael Van Valkenburgh.  The Sun-Times provides some context for the meeting.

*The doors will open at 5:00 for viewing of design boards; there will be a presentation at 5:45, but the Foundation promises there will be opportunities for you to speak.


South Lakefront Framework Plan Meetings Continue

When: Thursday, September 21 and Monday, September 25
Time:   5:00 – 7:00 p.m.  both days
Location: South Shore Cultural Center

As part of the framework planning initiative that began in June and is scheduled to conclude by November, the Chicago Park District has announced it will host two public meetings “to discuss recreation, culture, and programming of the parks.”  [Note that the text of the topic headline for the meetings is slightly but significantly different: “Recreation, Ecology, and Programming.”] It is expected that the format will be similar to that of the CDOT meetings in August, and that it would not be necessary to attend both days.

JPW will confirm these dates and times and provide more information on these Framework planning meetings next week, but we hope you will mark your calendars now.

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid
Jackson Park Watch



Jackson Park Watch Update – September 2, 2017

Greetings, all,

In this issue:
· The new Obama Foundation garage
· More on costs
· For lovers of landscape architecture

The New Obama Foundation Garage

On Wednesday, August 23, there was a welcome first bit of information about how the parking needs of the new Obama Presidential Center would be accommodated. The Obama Foundation announced that it would pay for and build a 450-car, two-story, above-ground parking garage on the eastern-most end of Midway Plaisance, on the tract between the Metra tracks and Stony Island Avenue. The garage would have a green roof. The schematic released shows it with sloping sides to the north, east, and south, and, on the west side adjacent to the Metra tracks, with a drive-through for car entrances and exits and for tour bus parking.

This announcement came just two weeks after Obama Foundation staffers told a Midway Plaisance Park Advisory Council meeting that there were no current plans to build such a garage. There had been no consultation with either the Midway Plaisance PAC or any neighborhood residents prior to the announcement. The Obama Foundation decision to build the garage itself came after its preferred approach proved impossible to execute.

The Midway Plaisance is classified as boulevard parkway and is owned by the City/CDOT, though it is managed by the Park District. The City Council would have to approve conveyance of the garage site to the Obama Foundation. This would be in addition to City Council approval of a new footprint for the OPC itself as the design now being proposed by the Foundation has shifted considerably beyond the site originally transferred from the Park District to the City for that purpose.

The parking garage announcement, light in details, has not surprisingly generated a host of questions:
* What would it cost to park there?
* Would it be open to the general public?
* Would it host overnight parking for near neighbors?
* How much extra traffic on the Midway and connecting side streets would result?
* What about the impact of air pollution from vehicles going in and out of the structure?
* Would the tour buses be idling after dropping off passengers at the OPC itself?
* Would this facility ultimately generate pressure to institute permit parking for near neighbors if large numbers of visitors to the OPC seek alternatives to the garage fees?

What you can do: Contact Obama Foundation V.P. for Civic Engagement Michael Strautmanis (mstrautmanis@obamapresidentialfoundation.org) to ask that the Obama Foundation host a community meeting about its parking garage proposal for all of those residing or working in the near vicinity (57th to 62nd and Stony Island to Dorchester) and other interested community members.

More on the Cost Issue

This question of the cost of the package of proposed changes to Jackson Park has become even more pressing in the light of the recent school funding reform legislation. That legislation directs some much needed funds to the Chicago schools. It also allows the Board of Education appointed by the Mayor to impose a $125 million tax hike on Chicago taxpayers, something it has indicated it would do.

We already know that the total costs of the proposed road changes and other infrastructure work related to the Obama Presidential Center and the proposed PGA golf course would be in the range of $100 million-plus . Yet these proposed expenditures for high-profile projects – some brand new, some long sought – would do nothing to address the long-term and ongoing problem of the Park District’s neglect of basic maintenance needs in Jackson Park and other Southside parks. Bridges are crumbling; bike and pedestrian paths are treacherous; underpasses are regularly flooded and impassable; the Jackson Park fieldhouse, built in 1957, is sub-par. In light of the many financial challenges facing the City, we all should be looking at the needs of Jackson Park comprehensively and planning carefully for repair and renewal of existing infrastructure and facilities as well as for guarantees that new construction projects will be maintained.

What you can do: Voice your views to the Mayor (rahm.emanuel@cityofchicago.org) and to the opinion pages of the Sun-Times (letters@suntimes.com), the Tribune (ctc-Tribletters@chicagotribune.com ), the Hyde Park Herald (letters@hpherald.com, and Crain’s Chicago Business (letters@chicagobusiess.com).

Tid-bit for landscape architecture lovers

Frederick Law Olmsted’s historic landscape architecture is a well-known feature of Jackson Park. Landscape architect buffs may be interested in two free lectures about a noted Chicago landscape architect of the Post-War era, Dan Kiley, on September 11. You can find more information and sign up at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/landscape-architecture-in-chicago-lectures-tickets-36777031090 .

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