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

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