Jackson Park Watch Update – February 18, 2018

Greetings all!

NEW!   The Jackson Park Watch website has been newly updated.  Check out the all-new Obama Center page and the updated Golf Course page to get the latest information and community perspectives at www.jacksonparkwatch.org .  Share the link with interested friends, neighbors, and colleagues.

Another public meeting

The Obama Foundation, with assistance from the Park District and CDOT,  has announced a public meeting on Tuesday, February 27 – only its second in 9 months.  The meeting will be at McCormick Place starting at 5 p.m.  While it is billed as an opportunity “to receive feedback on its zoning application and the Obama Presidential Center design,” JPW wonders whether the meeting will also include a marching band or celebrity appearances, as was the case at the Obama Foundation’s only other public meeting back in September.  JPW also wonders whether the promised breakout sessions on topics such as site design, economic impact, and CDOT’s proposed road changes will allow for substantive dialogue, or instead, as has been the case, will feature poster boards with limited chances for two-way discussion.

The meeting is to be held in the Grand Ballroom of the South Building of McCormick Place, which faces on King Drive and is located just south of (and connected to) the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place Hotel.  Entrance is through Gate 4.   We encourage community members to attend with questions and concerns but limited expectations for actual input.

Park District and CDOT forge ahead to close Cornell Drive

Without waiting for public feedback on February 27, or for review by the Chicago Plan Commission and the City Council, or for finalization of its much-touted South Lakefront Framework Plan, or for the results of the current federal reviews that will conclude in the Fall,  the Chicago Park District’s Board of Commissions last Wednesday – unanimously and without any discussion – authorized Park District CEO Mike Kelly to take steps that would enable the implementation of CDOT’s so-far unvetted plans for radical road changes in Jackson Park.

It was perhaps only a coincidence that the Board’s action took place at a sparsely attended meeting held far away from the Park District’s downtown headquarters, or that the documents discussed at the meeting were not available to the public at the meeting or on the Park District website, but the Sun-Times turned its spotlight on the vote and its implications.  The land swap authorized between the Park District and CDOT does not mean that road construction would start immediately, but it does signal that the powers that be are not looking for community input in spite of public statements by City and Obama Foundation officials.

Note that the Board of Commissioners vote dealt with only a portion of Cornell Drive and other roads within the park; road segments that lie within the current site claimed by the Obama Foundation will require additional steps.


Buried under the heading “Midway Plaisance” in the Chicago Department of Transportation’s application to the Plan Commission for approval to make massive (taxpayer funded) road changes in Jackson Park is this proposal, never before made public:

“North of the Midway Plaisance [on Cornell Drive from 59th north to 57th] a road diet will be implemented with new pavement markings to reduce Cornell Drive to one lane in each direction with a painted median and on-street parking on both sides of the road [emphasis added].  Approximately 70 on-street parking spaces would be added to offset a portion of the 150 spaces lost on Hayes Drive.”

JPAC does it again, sadly

Long time Update readers may recall the controversy two years ago when the Jackson Park Advisory Council endorsed the Project 120 proposal for a pavilion and outdoor music venue without having notified the membership in advance that the issue would be taken up.  At this month’s JPAC meeting, history unfortunately repeated itself.  A report from the JPAC golf committee turned into an endorsement when a motion was made to suspend the rules and proceed to a vote, again disregarding concerns that the membership had not been notified that the issue would come up for a vote.

Events you may want to attend

March 7, 6-8 p.m.

The impact of the Obama Presidential Center on Chicago’s South Side will be the focus of a public symposium at the University of Chicago featuring national and local experts on Wednesday, March 7.  The event will be 6-8 p.m., in Kent Hall (1020 E. 58th Street).  The symposium is a follow-up to a January 4, 2018 letter signed by 200 members of the University’s faculty expressing strong support for establishing the OPC on the South Side, while raising concerns about the specifics of its plan.  The event is free and open to the public, but registration is required.

March 10, 8:30 a.m.- 12 noon

Jackson Park Watch’s Margaret Schmid will be a panelist at the Ancona School’s symposium on “Race and Green Space in Chicago” on Saturday morning, March 10.  The event runs from 8:30 a.m. until noon.  Given the concerns about the impact of the major changes proposed for Jackson Park on open green spaces in the park and on recreational opportunities for local uses and local users, the symposium will offer a timely opportunity for discussion and exchange of information.   The Ancona School is at 4770 S. Dorchester.  Registration is encouraged by not required;  Click here to register today.


We continue to seek expert legal and technical counsel as we try to raise key questions and pursue community concerns.  Your check to support this expert assistance 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 Update – February 3, 2018

Greetings all!

Community concerns about golf course merger still not addressed

Over 200 people, including many Update readers, were in the room for the Park District’s golf course meeting Wednesday, January 31, at which the latest version of the proposal for the Jackson Park and South Shore courses was unveiled. The presentation materials from the meeting available on the South Lakefront Framework Plan website are difficult to download and to read. Better graphics of the new routing plan can be found on the boosterish website golf.com. The meeting was also covered by the Sun-Times, Tribune and Herald.

Here are some meeting highlights:

  • Park District CEO Mike Kelly is back out in front on this issue, featured at the meeting and in numerous media reports.
  • While there were some tweaks to the plan first presented on June 21, 2017, the basic design remains the same and the main concerns about the design have not been addressed.
    • The proposed expanded/merged golf course still extends beyond the footprints of the existing golf courses.
    • The proposed course still takes out the heart of the South Shore Nature Sanctuary, obliterating the lakefront path and fire pit circles on the eastern-most point, and turns that space, with its stunning views north over the lake, into Hole 15.
    • While additional spaces identified as natural areas have been introduced between fairways, they are very fragmented and narrow and would not have wildlife conservation value. Nor would they provide peaceful places so important to human visitors for passive recreation and enjoyment.
    • The recreational fields in Jackson Park and South Shore have not been replaced.  The South Shore beach is smaller, with about half of the current beach shown planted with grasses, presumably to add to the claim of replacement natural areas.
    • Overall, only high level information was made available to the public, with little detail.
  • Costs remain a major concern:
    • To build the course: Kelly stated that he intends to raise $30 million from private donors for the construction of the golf course; there was no information on how much has been raised so far. He also stated that the underpasses needed for the plan would cost taxpayers $30 million, but did not reveal where those funds would come from. Nor did he address the other major costs associated with the project – for the closure of Marquette Drive, for the planned new beach house , or for shoring up the lake edge along the South Shore course.
    • To use the course: Despite Mike Kelly’s statement that Chicago golfers would pay no more than $50, adequate information about the fee schedule – including when the most affordable fee times would be scheduled – is still lacking. There are still no assurances that current existing golfers would be able to continue to afford or have access to the course.
    • To operate the course: Questions about a viable business plan for the merged course were not addressed. There was no information about projected use of the new course or about possible PGA tournaments and the financial arrangements they would entail.
  • New themes: Mike Kelly and Beau Welling, the actual golf course designer who gave the presentation while frequently invoking Tiger Woods’ name, introduced these new emphases:
    • It’s all about the kids (over and over).
    • It’s all about bringing the community together. (One of the changes would be to locate the main club house south of what is now Marquette and just west of Jeffrey. It was described as the “community clubhouse,” where people from the Jackson Park Highlands neighborhood could find a “food and beverage outlet.”)
    • It’s all about serving local golfers. “The last thing we want to do is to make the course too difficult.”
  • The main improvement:  By relocating some of the fairways, what is now Marquette Drive would become a multi-use pedestrian path, and some of the existing mature trees would be preserved.

The presentation on January 31 was just that – a presentation. No questions were taken after the speakers concluded. Attendees were told to look at the boards and talk with staff. No additional meeting(s) has been scheduled. If you were unable to voice your concerns that evening or if you were one of the many who were not able to attend the meeting due to the last-minute scheduling, you can submit your comments on the South Lakefront Framework Plan website.

Your views matter! You can also express your concerns directly to:

Pro-OPC rally planned for mid-February

Those who have been following the schedule for the Plan Commission and Section 106/NEPA review processes now underway will have noted the listing of a public meeting in mid-February to prepare for the Plan Commission’s April hearing. This “preparatory” meeting is to be hosted by the Obama Foundation, CDOT, and the Park District. Since a meeting of this sort of unusual, JPW has written to Obama Foundation President David Simas, Park District CEO Mike Kelly, and CDOT Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld to ask for information. In the meantime, JPW has learned from other sources that this is expected to be a pep rally akin to the Obama Foundation’s first (and last) public meeting at the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place on September 14, which featured a marching band and a live-streamed appearance by former President Obama. As we learn more, we will share our information.

Another problematic CDOT proposal

As we continue to review the CDOT application for all of the road changes that the Obama Foundation wants to require, we noted with some amazement that CDOT proposes to narrow Cornell Drive between 57th and 59th Streets to one lane in either direction, allowing on-street parking in that segment in order to make up for some of the 150 parking spaces it would ban on Hayes Drive. CDOT euphemistically terms this a “road diet,” but it would likely be called a “bottleneck” (or more) by the drivers forced to merge at that point. What a concept!


Expert counsel is critical to our ability to raise key questions and pursue community concerns. Please consider a contribution (or a second one). 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