Jackson Park Watch News Flash – August 31, 2018

Greetings again!

We have just learned that the ongoing federal review process for proposed changes in Jackson Park under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) will include a public information meeting from 6 to 8 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 17, 2018, at the South Shore Cultural Center (7059 South Shore Drive).   It is our understanding that the meeting will be hosted by the National Park Service, which has just taken over as the lead agency on the NEPA review, and that representatives from multiple local, state and federal agencies will discuss NEPA and answer questions.

The meeting is now announced on the City’s website.


Jackson Park Watch Update – August 31, 2018

Greetings All!

Once again, much is happening. Here are some highlights.

Good golf course news!

We are happy to have some good golf course news to share. Eric Zorn’s recent column in the Tribune shared exciting new ideas about how the Jackson Park course could better serve the neighborhood, the south side, and the city generally without destroying recreational areas and the invaluable Nature Sanctuary adjacent to the South Shore Cultural Center, all at a much lower cost. We look forward to broader discussions about how to improve the existing golf courses in ways that respect the existing natural areas and recreational amenities and that preserve the reasonable fees and tee access that ensure that local golfers can continue to enjoy them.

Important change in the federal reviews

About a month ago, the City notified the consulting parties to the Section 106 review that new documents and information had been added to the website that periodically posts documents related to the federal review of the proposals for the Obama Presidential Center and related road changes.

Among the new information shared was the announcement of a change in the federal agency responsible for leading a critical portion of the review. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), initially the agency in charge, will continue to be the lead federal agency for the Section 106 (historic preservation) review.   However, the National Park Service (NPS) will take over as lead agency for the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) review, the overarching umbrella review that covers both the historic preservation assessment and the more comprehensive environmental impact assessments to come. The Park Service’s involvement is based on earlier “UPARR” federal funding for recreational facilities in Jackson Park that cannot be changed to non-recreational uses without NPS sign-off.

JPW and other organizations have sought to understand the reason for the switch and its potential implications.   We and others have been critical of the early, City-led efforts to limit the focus of the NEPA review to the state of Jackson Park and the Midway Plaisance as it will be after the OPC and the related road changes have been implemented rather to use the parks’ current state as the baseline for measuring impact. We can only think that it would be a good thing for another set of eyes to take a look at the issues that we and others have raised.

We have written the NPS official newly in charge of the NEPA review, attaching letters detailing our NEPA-related concerns and drawing more complete attention to the unresolved issues of proper parkland replacement, not only for now-destroyed baseball diamonds, but for the entire OPC site.

“FAQ” merits a critique

Among the documents newly posted by the City is an FAQ that is meant to respond to some of the many questions JPW and others have raised about the OPC plans. We note that there are many gaps, half-truths and internal contradictions in the City’s assertions.

Some examples:

One key distortion occurs near the end of the document, when it asserts that the proposal for siting the OPC in Jackson Park was fully reviewed and publicly discussed in 2014-15, when the University of Chicago, in collaboration with the City, developed its bid to the Obama Foundation. But the FAQ fails to note that the portion of land in Jackson Park offered to the Obama Foundation in 2015 was not the same plot of land that it now seeks to claim. In 2015 there was no hint in the community or Council meetings that the OPC would demand the closure of Cornell Drive between 59th and 63rd streets as well as the east-bound segment of Midway Plaisance Drive. There was no hint that, because of those undisclosed road closures, the OPC would require some $175 million in public, taxpayer funds for widening Lake Shore Drive and Stony Island Avenue, with an attendant loss of parkland. It is unknown whether such possibilities of site creep were raised in the University of Chicago’s proposal to the Obama Foundation, for that bid has continued to be confidential.

Another example is the continuing insistence that the South Lakefront Framework Plan (SLFP) somehow requires that the OPC and its related road changes be put in place whereas in fact the plans for the OPC and the road changes all predate the SLFP and were fully developed before the SLFP community meetings began.

Yet one more: The City states that “We anticipate that the widening of Stony Island will have no effect to the crown of the [historic Olmsted designed] berms” that mark the western edge of the park. In fact, the OPC landscape architects plan to level the site in order to completely rebuild the contours. 

Seen in the neighborhood

Earlier this week former President Obama dropped in on an event scheduled to update supporters about the Obama Foundation’s programs and the status of the OPC, whose construction start date has recently been postponed until 2019.  The event was closed to the media except for President Obama’s brief remarks to thank the group and reaffirm his close ties and commitment to Chicago. As the Sun-Times and other media noted, the construction project faces a revised schedule and structure for federal reviews, a legal challenge by Protect Our Parks, and a continued call for a Community Benefits Agreement.

We need your support!

As is clear from former President Obama’s visit to cheer some core supporters, the struggle over the location of the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park is far from over.  We are engaged in an expanding variety of regulatory and legal consultations, and your financial support is vital to ensure we have the expertise we need.  Please send a donation check to Jackson Park Watch at P. O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615.

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

Jackson Park Watch Update – August 11, 2018

Greetings All!

Once again, so much is happening that it is hard to keep up. Here are some highlights:

OPC construction delay, Park District jumps the gun, Protect Our Parks seeks to block work on track

OPC hoped-for construction start pushed back

On July 27, the Obama Foundation announced that the start of construction of the OPC would be pushed back until 2019 despite its repeated assertions that construction would begin in 2018. Among other things, this delay means that the existing track/field in Jackson Park will be intact throughout the 2018 fall season. Any need to rush to construct its replacement would have seemingly disappeared.

Park District begins work on replacement track/field

At almost the same time as the Obama Foundation announced its schedule change, the Park District began fencing off the site for the replacement track/field (located between the current track and 63rd St.) and on August 6, as reported in the Sun-Times and the Herald, crews began cutting trees, digging up the baseball diamonds, and converting the park space into a construction site.   As previously announced, the Obama Foundation is paying for the track/field replacement. Arrangements to relocate the baseball diamonds, which is required under the federal reviews, have not been made nor is there any agreement on who would pay for that work.

Protect Our Parks (POP) goes back to court

As covered in previous Updates, a non-profit environmental advocacy group Protect Our Parks filed suit in May seeking to block the construction of the OPC in Jackson Park. The specifics of that challenge have been covered by Crain’s and other media outlets, and a recent Tribune report offers additional valuable perspectives and background on the suit’s significance and the motivations behind it. Yet the suit has been on hold for the past month.   The City had argued in June that the POP suit was premature as the necessary City ordinance defining the OPC site was not yet in place; it also had represented that no work would take place in Jackson Park until such an ordinance was adopted, a promise now in question.

Reacting to the Park District’s actions of the past week, POP filed a new motion on August 8 asking the judge to stop the Jackson Park tree-cutting and other preparations for construction and to move forward with the original POP suit. The hearing on the new motion is scheduled for Tuesday, August 14.

There has been other important news as well

On July 26, there was a major rally in support of a Community Benefits Agreement.

On July 27, the City Department of Planning and Development announced further delays and a revised schedule for the Section 106 meetings and other elements of the ongoing federal reviews of the changes proposed for Jackson Park.

On August 3, Crain’s published an excellent editorial entitled “Just why is the Obama Center heading to Jackson Park?” We highly recommend it.

Earlier this month there were reports of Illinois Republican legislators’ objecting to the use of state funds for Obama Center-related roadwork, and just today that issue has been highlighted in an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal. Unfortunately, only WSJ subscribers will be able to read the entire op-ed, but the on-line headline correctly summarizes the author’s point: taxpayers’ money is being spent for a private political undertaking.

Please support us

Clearly, this is not a done deal. Our work continues and we are working closely with others. We will appreciate your contributions! Please send checks (payable to Jackson Park Watch) to JPW at P.O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615.

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