Jackson Park Watch Update – December 21, 2017


Obama Center parking

Just when we thought there might be a break from Jackson Park action for the holidays, the Obama Foundation called an invitation-only meeting for Wednesday night, 12/20, to discuss parking garage plans.  JPW was there, along with top staff from Chicago-area park, open space, and preservation organizations, leaders of concerned local groups, and many others.

Sadly, despite some earlier suggestions to the contrary, the meeting revealed only that the Obama Foundation is choosing to willfully ignore the objections by large segments of the community as well as other organizations to the placement of the parking garage on the Midway and instead is digging in and making only minor tweaks to its earlier design.

After a lengthy description of these minor changes, including the assertion yet again that this was not a done deal and they were still considering alternatives, Obama Foundation V.P. Mike Strautmanis. moderated a Q & A session.  Many questions were raised about the need for and desirability of having the parking garage in that location.  Numerous people suggested that an underground parking garage should instead be constructed on the already-designated OPC plot. Mike Strautmanis insisted that cost was not a primary consideration in determining the location or design  of the garage, although it is generally known that an underground garage at this location with its high water table would be very pricey.  Others focused on transportation issues more broadly and the folly of trying to address the garage issue in isolation from an overall transportation plan for Jackson Park and the Midway. Some supported the basic idea of the parking garage.  And then, suddenly, time was up, with little time for follow-up.

A KEY POINT: The Foundation and its architects are now arguing that an above ground parking garage, by requiring people to walk the short distance to the OPC, will create opportunities for shops and restaurants in the neighborhood. They continue to refer to the area as “underutilized” and in need of “activation.”  However, the Foundation and its architects seem to misunderstand the essential character of the neighborhood around OPC’s desired site: it is residential and institutional, not full of vacant spaces awaiting development.  Unless the University converts its parking lot at 60th and Stony Island to commercial space, or unless Leon Finney’s Woodlawn Community Development Corporation demolishes some of its existing residential development along Stony Island between 60th and Hyde Park Academy, there simply is no space for restaurants and shops within any reasonable distance from the proposed OPC location.

Bottom line:  few if any minds were changed.  Next steps?  Expect the issue to be raised multiple times in many ways in the Section 106 /NEPA reviews now under way.

Darrow Bridge for sale?

The recent article about the Chicago Department of Transportation’s proposed sale of historic Darrow Bridge in Jackson Park is likely to be the beginning rather than the end of the story.  (Note: CDOT calls it the Columbia Bridge.) As recently as August, information available in a CDOT “charrette” focused on the bridge indicated that restoration plans were complete, funding was on hand, and all was moving ahead: not a word about a sale.  Darrow Bridge supporters and historic preservationists have now mobilized, seeking more information and looking for alternatives.  Stay tuned.

Year-end giving

If you are still thinking about year-end tax-deductible gifts, perhaps prompted by the new tax bill, consider a donation to Jackson Park Watch.  It is clear that the crucially important Section 106/NEPA reviews that have just begun will continue for many months, and that much is at stake.  Your donations help us bring outside expertise to maximize our effectiveness.  Your check can be sent to Jackson Park Watch, P.O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615.  We thank you!

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

Jackson Park Watch Action Alert – December 9, 2017

Greetings all,


While continuing to ignore the elephants in the room (the siting of the Obama Presidential Center, the proposed road closures/realignments, the proposed golf course consolidation/expansion), the Chicago Park District has now thrown a grab bag of new options into the mix at its latest round of open-house meetings. The second and last of these hastily announced presentations takes place this Monday, Dec. 11, from 6 to 9 pm at the South Shore Cultural Center. Doors open at 6; presentation at 6:30; open house follows. We urge you to attend!

As in prior meetings, there are a myriad of “boards” displaying possible layouts of the park, with staff posted at each. Specifically, we encourage you to discuss what you like and what you don’t with the staff (some from the Park District, some from the hired consultants). These in-depth discussions on individual park features are more significant than the overall general “vote” that attendees are asked to cast. It is not a question of choosing a single scenario but rather of identifying the desirable and preferred features in each (and tagging the undesirable ones as well).

The new options – packaged as three scenarios – range from bad (a revived “music pavilion” in scenarios one and two, one option locating it at Cornell Drive and 59th St.), to potentially useful (new walkways, a relocated dog park, a boardwalk along the lagoon near the Music Bridge), to intriguing but expensive (new water features in scenarios two and three, construction of a “point” in the lake at the 63rd St. beach). Attention to the details will be important.

The Park District is going to use feedback at these meetings in devising its next steps. While it is possible to view the boards and comment online, direct discussion is much more productive and powerful. This is one of those times when in-person input may carry real weight.

Please feel free to share this Action Alert widely.

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

Jackson Park Watch Update – December 2, 2017

Greetings all,


·         OPC submission to Plan Commission pushed back, possible design changes to come, as Section 106 review process begins.

·         Park District schedules Open Houses for Dec. 7 and 11 on alternative recreation plans for Jackson Park – but OPC and proposed traffic changes still seen as driving Park planning.

Section 106 review process begins

On Thursday  the Sun-Times reported that the Obama Foundation would be delaying its submission to the Chicago Plan Commission for several months.  On Friday, at the kick-off meeting for the Section 106 review of the OPC and related proposals, there were signals that the Obama Foundation may be further changing its design plans:  Eleanor Gorski, Deputy Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Planning and Development and the lead facilitator of the Section 106 review process, said that she understands that the Obama Foundation may submit “refined” design plans early in 2018.  We will be on the lookout and will let you know!

The lack of clarity about schedules, designs and site footprints, and scope of the review was evident throughout the busy, two-hour meeting at the South Side Y Friday morning.  The meeting started with confusion as the organizers had apparently anticipated a much smaller group.  While those registered as consulting parties were directed to a conference room at the Y that held about 100, many others attendees were directed across the street to an overflow room at the Jackson Park Field House, where they could view the session via a video stream.   Eleanor Gorski gave a very useful PowerPoint presentation outlining both the Section 106 and the NEPA reviews, which are coordinated but separate in purpose and process.   The first step in the Section 106 review is the definition of the “area of potential effect” and the development of an inventory of historic resources in that area.   This first step, now underway, is expected to take several months, and the full Section 106 process could extend until the fall.  The NEPA review will parallel the Section 106 process, but its schedule has not yet been announced.  The HeraldTribune, and Sun-Times provide useful summaries and perspectives on the meeting.

Overall, we learned that there would be an extended review period, with many steps and meetings to be announced , but – as the question period revealed – it was not clear exactly what is to be reviewed and why the scope of the review process has been defined as it has.   Among the many questions posed (but not fully answered):

·         How can any review go forward before the OPC site footprint and its design plan are settled?

·         How can the closure of Marquette Drive and the construction of underpasses for the golf project be included in the review without also including all of the plans for the golf course merger?

·         Why is the South Shore Cultural Center not included in the area under review?

·         Why are parts of Woodlawn and Hyde Park and the entirety of Promontory Point appropriately  identified as “Areas of Potential Effect,” but areas of South Shore just south of 67th Street – including the Jackson Park Highlands historic district — not so designated?

·         In identifying historic resources in Jackson Park, should not Cornell Drive and Hayes Drive, which trace Olmsted’s design, be included, as well as his design for the natural plantings?

Also noted – with raised eyebrows — was the potential for conflict of interests.  Although the Federal Highway Administration is the lead federal agency for the overall review, the Section 106 review process is being directed by representatives of the City’s Department of Planning and Development and the Department of Transportation,  the agencies that are officially advocating for the designs that are now under review. Although we have been assured that such an arrangement is not uncommon, skepticism and unease were evident.


Park District Open Houses set for Dec. 7 and 11 — MARK YOUR CALENDARS

Thursday, December 7, AND  Monday, December 11
South Shore Cultural Center
7059 S. South Shore Drive
6:00pm – 9:00pm

With unfortunately little advance notice, the Park District has announced two open houses to consider “options for recreational and cultural park uses.”  While still claiming that the South Lakefront Framework plan is under development, the language in its news release indicates that the OPC and the attendant road closure/realignments are driving and circumscribing the park planning process – even while those plans themselves are in flux – rather than the other way around.  Nonetheless your participation and input about options for ball fields, nature areas, and golf options are important.  We urge you to attend one of the meetings and to voice your opinions of the options presented.

From the Park District press release November 30:

As part of its ongoing South Lakefront Framework Plan process that began in June, the Chicago Park District announced today that it will host another two community meetings to present and solicit community feedback on potential park uses and capital improvements to Jackson and South Shore Parks. These meetings will focus on options for the rest of the park systems, building on plans for the Obama Presidential Center and traffic mitigations that were previously presented to the public.

The meetings will be focused solely on the options for recreational and cultural park uses; no new information will be presented about the Obama Presidential Center itself or proposed transportation improvements. The meetings will be held on December 7 and December 11 at the South Shore Cultural Center, located at 7059 S. South Shore Dr., from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.


Thank you again! 

We have received generous tax-deductible donations from many and are grateful for the confidence placed in us.  We are putting the funds to work in the form of expert assistance for what we do.  As these reviews move forward, we will continue to gratefully accept checks sent to Jackson Park Watch, P.O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615.


As always, feel free to share this Update widely.

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