Jackson Park Watch Update – April 16, 2018

Greetings all!

As we keep noting, a lot is happening! Here is a recent rundown:

The South Lakefront Frame Plan update – where does that stand and why does it matter?

  • The SLFP was “accepted” by the Park District Board at its 4/11 meeting.
  • As JPW underscored at the meeting – and CEO Mike Kelly agreed – it is a plan, nothing more. Although Blair Kamin’s 4/15 Tribune article painted a lovely picture of possible new future water features for Jackson Park, it also noted that the SLFP included “no price tags or funding sources” for any of the projects outlined in the plan. Note that none of the projects included in the SLFP update is dependent on any others. For example, constructing the OPC does not mean any other project – not even the proposed road changes – will necessarily move forward.
  • The Board’s acceptance of the SLFP will likely be seized on by those raising funds for the golf course and the OPC, even though the development of the plans for those projects preceded and was unrelated to the SLFP initiative.

That golf course again

A recent piece in the Tribune highlighted the Tiger Woods/President Obama connection in relationship to the golf course expansion/merger plan, old news to those who have been following the story. In fact, the project does not appear to be moving forward at present, and no actual golf course plans have been submitted to the Plan Commission for review. At the 4/11 Park District Board meeting Mike Kelly noted that “a ton of money” still had to be raised for the construction of the course, and also repeated his promise that the golf course won’t be built if the community doesn’t want it.

Obama Presidential Center promotions

The Obama Foundation has recently launched both a virtual postcard campaign and an online letter writing campaign, asking people to express general support for the Obama Presidential Center. JPW does not know of anyone who actually opposes the OPC. Rather, the devil is in the details, with so many questions and concerns related to the OPC and road plans still outstanding.

Important news: OPC to move forward even if Cornell Drive stays open

The Obama Foundation has recently invited numerous groups for one-on-one meetings, and JPW was among those invited. At our 4/5 meeting with VP for Civic Engagement Mike Strautmanis and Director of Planning and Construction Roark Frankel among others, the talk turned to Cornell Drive. Frankel repeated what we had heard long ago from Strautmanis: the OPC will be built in Jackson Park even if Cornell Drive stays open.

Replacement parkland controversy likely lies ahead

Another important note from the JPW meeting with the Obama Foundation: The Obama Foundation staff asserted that replacement parkland will be needed only for the acreage directly under the footprints of the OPC buildings, and that the rest of the OPC site will continue to be counted as public parkland. JPW and others find it hard to understand how land under a long-term lease to a private entity (the Obama Foundation) and controlled by it for purposes including construction, maintenance, security, and programming can be considered public parkland. JPW also believes that the governing principle should be that there can be no net loss of actual public parkland. Given the initial commitment by the City, albeit vaguely worded, to replace all of the public parkland used for the OPC, this is likely to shape up as another key point of disagreement.

Finally – we know what date to save – May 17!

The Obama Foundation’s virtual postcard promotion specifies that its applications to the Chicago Plan Commission – one under the Lakefront Protection Ordinance and one for rezoning – will be reviewed at the May 17 Plan Commission meeting. The CDOT roads application, also under the Lakefront Protection Ordinance, will be heard that day as well. Now we know we can plan for that date. Look for more details in early May about how the Plan Commission works and how you will be able to participate.

Donations always welcome

Thanks to all who have contributed to our work. Our study of the CDOT traffic proposal is moving along well. We have secured the services of a traffic engineer professional who is reviewing the Sam Schwartz traffic study underlying the CDOT proposal, and we anticipate having a report to share prior to May 17. We continue to benefit from expert legal assistance. It is your support that has made all this possible. Please send your checks to Jackson Park Watch, P.O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615. If you have questions about our request for support, please feel free to contact us at jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com.

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


Jackson Park Watch Update – April 5, 2018

Greetings all!

Federal review of OPC confused and problematic

As JPW noted in a letter to local newspapers (which appeared in the Sun-Times and Herald), the March 29 Section 106 meeting offered little clarity and raised new issues:

To the Editor:

As eloquently noted by Openland’s CEO Jerry Adelmann at last Thursday’s Section 106 meeting, there are significant problems with the process the City’s Department of Planning and Development and Department of Transportation are following as they conduct the required federal review of the proposals for the Obama Presidential Center and the related road changes it requires.  Two problems stand out:  First, the City departments have omitted the necessary first step of including public participation in developing the statement of “purpose and need” that defines the project for review.  Second, they have instead drafted their own “purpose and need” statement without public input. Rather than taking the current configuration of the park as the starting point for assessing the impact of the proposed changes, their statement disingenuously presumes that all of the OPC construction and road work has been completed and that only the resulting traffic problems need to be addressed.  As with the South Lakefront Framework Plan, there is an ongoing attempt to put the cart before the horse.

Also of note at Thursday’s meeting was the new proposal to take the eastern portion of the Midway — land that the Obama Foundation previously hoped to use for a parking garage — for use as “replacement” land for the baseball diamonds that will be displaced as a result of the OPC siting in the park.  Ironically, this proposal could result in a net loss of park space unless the City fully meets its commitment to give the Park District new open green space equal to that taken for the OPC.   Further, this proposal disregards the fact that there is an existing Midway Plaisance Framework Plan, developed through a proper community process, that envisions other uses for this space. 

We hope that the haste with which the City and Obama Foundation are pursuing their objectives does not result in mistakes that will ultimately slow the entire project down. 

The meeting – inconveniently scheduled to coincide with school and religious holidays – was sparsely attended.  Public input on the specific focus of the meeting (the impact of the OPC and road changes on historic properties and landscapes) was further limited because the draft archeology and historic property inventory reports (some 1000 pages of documents) had been posted for review only ten days before the meeting date and the promised hard copies of the historic properties reports were first available at the meeting itself.  There were many questions and concerns about the timing and sequencing of overall federal review process along with questions about whether the archaeological review was adequate, how and why the “period of significance” was defined, whether the critique of road changes choose arbitrary cutoff dates, and more.

Voice your concerns! 

Despite the complexity of the federal review processes and questions as to whether they are being managed appropriately, public input continues to be crucial.  You can comment on the 3/29 Section 106 meeting itself (a webinar version of the hour-and-a half meeting is available via YouTube – no visual until minute 1:47) and on the details  of the Historic Properties Inventory and the Archaeological Properties Identification reports that were the specific topic of that meeting. The (very lengthy) reports are available online (scroll down to the March 19 entry under “Milestones”).

You can also comment on any other aspect of the federal reviews:  on the idea of having baseball diamonds on the Midway; on how the South Lakefront Framework Plan process “put the cart before the horse” in presuming the construction of the OPC and the golf course and the related roadwork; on continuing concerns about the OPC, the proposed road work, or the golf course proposal.

The comment period on the Section 106 draft reports closes April 19.  There is no deadline for comments about other aspects of the federal review processes.

Send your comments to the City’s Department of Planning and Development general e-mail address, dpd@cityofchicago.org , and be sure to label your e-mail “public input for the OPC federal reviews.”  You may want to cc your comments to:

Mayor Emanuel (rahm.emanuel@cityofchicago.org),

CDOT Commissioner Scheinfeld (Rebekah.Scheinfeld@cityofchicago.org ), or

Park District CEO Kelly (Michael.Kelly@chicagoparkdistrict.com ) .

Chicago Plan Commission hearing on OPC, road changes pushed back further

The agenda for the April 19 Chicago Plan Commission meeting has been published, and none of the Jackson Park-related applications are on the docket – not the CDOT application to execute the road closures and realignments, not the Obama Foundation applications (there are two) to construct the OPC; not even the Park District application to build a replacement track and field facility at the south end of the site originally designated for the Obama Presidential Library. We do not know the specific reasons for the delays, but suspect that the complexities of the processes, the ongoing pushback against many aspects of the proposals, and the sheer amount of detail involved continue to significantly slow the work.

We will continue to track this and to keep you posted.  The next Plan Commission meeting is May 17.  We urge you to note that date on your calendars and to make plans to be there if at all possible.  When the OPC and CDOT plans do finally come to the Plan Commission, it will be very important to have a major demonstration of questions and concerns.

Quote to note

In Crain’s Chicago Business on March 29, renowned preservationist and architect John Vinci was asked: What’s the worst part of being a Chicagoan?

Vinci’s response:  “The indifference of politicians to architectural significance. I’m furious over Jackson Park and the proposed Obama Presidential Center. People are just starting to realize that it’s being violated.”

Donations welcomed – and needed! 

THANKS to all who have recently donated.  Your trust and support motivates us and enables us to persist.  Our road initiative continues and we hope for an initial report soon.  Additionally, we continue to need funds to support the legal assistance that has been critical to our work. Please send your checks to Jackson Park Watch, P.O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615.  If you have questions about our request for support, please feel free to contact us at jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com.

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