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

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