Jackson Park Watch SPECIAL ISSUE – May 13, 2018

Greetings, all:

UPDATE: The Current Situation
The push to get Plan Commission approval on May 17 of all of the proposals related to the Obama President Center is now in full gear. Expect a media blitz in the coming week, and – on the day of the meeting – a pep rally and demonstration in and around City Hall orchestrated by the Obama Foundation.

JPW has been preparing for the May 17 hearing:

  • We delivered the JPW-commissioned independent traffic study – CDOT’s Transportation Plan for the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park: A Review and Alternative – to Plan Commission members and to Obama Foundation officials and Alderman Leslie Hairston on Thursday, May 10. Along with the traffic study, which includes both a critique of the CDOT plan and an alternative road configuration for Jackson Park, we provided a critical analysis of CDOT’s claim to be in compliance with the Chicago Lakefront Protection Ordinance. We also submitted a detailed critique of the Obama Foundation applications for approvals for rezoning and Lakefront Protection Ordinance compliance, identifying missing information and other inadequacies in both. The materials are posted on our web site home page at www.jacksonparkwatch.org. Please take a look.
  • We asked the Plan Commission to reject the CDOT application and to delay action on the Obama Foundation applications pending additional information and the resolution of key public policy questions.

Some of the critical issues relating to OPC were spotlighted by Lynn Sweet of the Sun-Times in two recent articles on replacement parkland and the Cornell Drive road closure , which focused on our traffic study. We highly recommend both articles. Crain’s Chicago Business also provided excellent coverage of the JPW traffic study and appended on-line the study and the full JPW statement to the Plan Commission, as did the on-line Hyde Park Herald.


On Thursday, May 17, in a hearing dedicated solely to requests related to the Obama Presidential Center, the Chicago Plan Commission will consider three key applications:

  • The Chicago Department of Transportation application for approval to close Cornell Drive and make other major road changes.
  • Two separate Obama Foundation applications for approval of the construction of the Obama Presidential Center are on the agenda.  One application argues that it satisfies the Lakefront Protection Ordinance; the other asks for rezoning of the site.


  1. BE THERE!

The Plan Commission meeting will start at 10 a.m., Thursday, May 17, in the City Council Chambers in City Hall (121 N. LaSalle Street between Randolph and Washington, 2nd floor).  Doors to the Council Chambers open at 9 a.m. Seats in the Gallery will likely fill up fast. The Obama Foundation is staging a pep rally complete with tee-shirts, music and free breakfast starting at 5 a.m. just outside City Hall. It also plans to fill the lobby outside the Council Chambers to overflowing at 9 a.m., so make your plans accordingly. You may wish to be there early with a prepared statement you can offer up to the many reporters that are sure to be there (see below).


Members of the public and representatives of organizations like JPW, Friends of the Parks, etc. are allowed only three minutes each to state their concerns or approval.  To speak, you will need to sign up with staff at the entrance to the Chambers.

  • See attached a copy of the sign-up form that you will be handed at the entrance.
  • The agenda item number will be available at the meeting.
  • Do not fill in “Organization” unless you are the designated spokesperson for your group; otherwise, leave that blank or put “self.”
  • You will need to indicate if you support or oppose the proposal, but you can add notes such as “Oppose in current form,” or “Oppose — more information needed.”
  • We advise preparing your 3-minute statement ahead of time. Bring extra copies with you on Thursday so that you can submit a copy for the public record .
  • It is unknown whether there will be a single comment period or separate comments for each application.
  • Seek out opportunities to offer your comments to interested reporters both orally and in writing.       Optional: Include your name and phone number on the statement for possible follow-up.
  • The Chicago Plan Commission is run by the City’s Department of Planning and Development (DPD).   Department staff will present each of the applications and explain why each  should be approved. There will be PowerPoint or video  presentations.  We expect Alderman Hairston to speak in support.  Public comments will follow these presentations.
  • Given the number, complexity and high-profile of the applications under review, the hearing will likely go on for a long time – perhaps until 5 p.m. or later.       Be prepared; be flexible.
  • Submit your comments via email by 12 noon on May 16 to Patrick Murphey, DPD Assistant Commissioner (Patrick.Murphey@cityofchicago.org ). Explain that you cannot attend the May 17 hearing and ask him if he would please distribute them to the Plan Commission members. Also ask him to let you know this is done and thank him very much.
  • Write letters to the editors (see www.jacksonparkwatch.org, “Take Action” page for email addresses) stating your position(s).  Some key issues are:
  • the need to seriously consider the option of NOT closing Cornell Drive;
  • the need for full replacement of lost public parkland;
  • the importance of the Plan Commission giving at most only conditional approval to any of the applications, subject to resolution of the federal review process now  on-going;
  • the need for resolution of key underlying procedural questions about the allocation and control of public land.


We are pleased that the JPW-commissioned traffic study prepared by raSmith, CDOT’s Transportation Plan for the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park: A Review and Alternative, was released in advance of the Plan Commission hearing.   Beyond its influence in the immediate discussions, it provides important information that will become part of the on-going federal review. It also has consumed most of our financial resources – and appropriately so, as our generous donors have intended us to spend their funds, not conserve them for some distant purpose. Nonetheless, at this point, additional funds would be welcome. Please send checks to Jackson Park Watch, P.O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615. We thank you.

Questions?  e-mail JPW at jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com .

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

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