Jackson Park Watch Update – February 15, 2019

Greetings, all.    

POP hearing intense, outcomes as yet unclear

The long-awaited hearing on the Protect Our Parks lawsuit against the City and Park District, challenging the siting of the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park, took place Thursday morning, February 14, at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse.  The courtroom was full, media representatives were in attendance, and Judge John Robert Blakey devoted a full hour to the case, focused first on the issue of “standing” (that is, do the issues POP has alleged belong in federal court) and second on the issue of “discovery” (that is, what documents does the City have to provide to POP to allow it to build evidence).

On standing

The City brought in outside counsel to argue vigorously that Protect Our Parks should be denied standing on a wide variety of counts and that the case should therefore be dismissed. In response POP reiterated why its charges merit federal review.  Judge Blakely then announced that he will issue a ruling on the issue of standing by Tuesday, February 19.  At that time he could deny standing and dismiss the case; he could grant standing and allow the case to proceed; or he could deny standing on some of the counts but let others stand, thus also allowing the case to proceed. Given the importance of many of the issues central to the case, we are cautiously optimistic that the judge will grant standing on at least some of the counts.

On discovery

As has been true with virtually all things related to the Obama Presidential Center from the beginning, the City is trying to cloak its actions in secrecy.  POP has asked for numerous documents and the City has produced only a very few.  At yesterday’s hearing, Judge Blakey asked POP to list the information it seeks, and asked the City to respond on each request.  In almost every instance, the City’s response was that the information requested is “categorically irrelevant” and “outside of the corners” of the case.  The City’s position is that the only documents that are relevant for deciding the suit are the Planned Development Ordinance, the OPC Ordinance of October 31 drafted by the Mayor and rubber-stamped by the City Council, and the Use Agreement appended to the OPC Ordinance.

(Importantly, the OPC Ordinance noted above consists largely of 93 “Whereas” clauses to justify approval of siting the OPC in Jackson Park. These statements are a mix of fact, fiction, falsehood, and undocumented promotional claims, yet the City’s position is that, because the ordinance was approved by the City Council, these are legislative findings of fact and must be given unfettered judicial deference.)

After this call and non-response, Judge Blakey ordered the parties to confer and try to come to agreement on which of POP’s requests for discovery would be honored, and to report the outcome to him by February 22.  He then set a hearing for February 27, at which point he will rule on the remaining disagreements, set a schedule for final discovery, and move the process forward.

Reports on the hearing have appeared in the Tribune, Hyde Park Herald, Sun-Times, and nationally via Associated Press.

On other matters

Golf Project Status Check

When the plan to merge and expand the South Shore and Jackson Park golf courses into a single PGA-level course was announced by Mayor Emanuel and Park District Superintendent Kelly in December 2016, they projected that construction on the project would begin in 2017.  That didn’t happen, so what is the schedule now?

Craig Bowen, a representative of  the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance, the quasi-private entity created by the Park District to make the golf course project a reality, announced at the February  meeting of the Jackson Park Advisory Council that all is well, ground will be broken this spring at the South Shore segment, local golfers will definitely be protected, and more.  The catch?  When asked for documentation of the plans, Bowen responded only that  “they will be available soon.”

To the contrary, however, Park District staff have since indicated that the only ground to be broken at South Shore this year will be for the a long-awaited new beach house  (perhaps in the summer, after plans have been completed and fully vetted by the community – yes, they are promising community input).  Beyond that, construction on the golf course project cannot proceed until the preparatory engineering and planning work by Smith Group JJR is completed, until the current and additional federal reviews are concluded, and until funds (private and public) are obtained for all aspects of the project.

Meanwhile, the key issues about the golf project – local access, loss of non-golf recreational features, high cost, funding sources – are laid out in a recent article in SwingU.com by Bill Daniels, golf industry expert and avid golfer (in Jackson Park as well as everywhere else).    Daniels notes the many financial, logistical and political obstacles that poke holes in the current CPGA plan, and envisions a more realistic possibility of renewing and improving  the courses in their current footprints for a tenth of the cost.  He promises to address that option in future articles.

The schedule and overall status of the golf project remain in flux.  We will track its course in future Updates.

The Saga of the SSCC     

A central issue of the golf course project is its impact on the role of the South Shore Cultural Center as a community center for arts and recreation.   An informative history of the SSCC can be found in the recent South Side Weekly.  “A Palace for the People” traces the story of what is now named South Shore Beach Park from its first incarnation as an exclusionary country club  through the community activism of the 1970s that saved the building from demolition and transformed it into a mecca for jazz concerts and other arts programming to its current status as a Park District events center in the crosshairs of new development.  Recommended reading.

Promontory Point on National Register

Update readers on Chicago’s South Side may remember the successful effort to “Save the Point” of some years ago.  One year ago, Promontory Point Park was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Now the Promontory Point Conversancy is planning to put a commemorative National Register plaque in the park.  For more information or to support the effort, go to www.promontorypoint.org.


Having tallied up the tab for the intense work of the last two months, we need your support.  With the help of our legal counsel, we submitted the amicus curiae brief co-authored with Preservation Chicago, and we provided considerable technical assistance to the POP lawsuit. Please give generously. If you have questions, please feel free to direct them to JPW co-president and treasurer Margaret Schmid at jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com.

We thank you.

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

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