Jackson Park Watch Update – March 30, 2019

Greetings, all!

There have been a variety of interesting developments.  We note them below.   

Major grant to Protect Our Parks

Of great interest is the $100,000 grant given to Protect Our Parks by the Reva and David Logan Foundation to help fund its lawsuit against the City of Chicago and Chicago Park District.  That lawsuit concerns the siting of the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park.  The fact that this was described as an “initial” grant makes it even more significant.

In the statement announcing the grant, Logan Foundation board chairman Richard Logan commented “We believe that this ‘land grab’ is both legally and morally wrong, and that the City of Chicago, the Obama Foundation and their partners need to reconsider their choice of location for this project.  There are so many sites in the city that could benefit from the kudos, the opportunities for employment and the neighborhood regeneration without taking public land and destroying historic city parklands.”

The Logan Foundation funded the construction of the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts at the University of Chicago (915 E. 60th St.)  The architects who designed the Logan Center, Tod Williams and Billie Tsein, were chosen by the Obama Foundation to design the OPC.

POP lawsuit progresses

Despite prodding by federal Judge John R. Blakey, wrangling between the Protect Our Parks’ small legal team and the City’s stable of lawyers about the release of documents and the taking of depositions continues as the City has employed the classic technique of “running out the clock” on the period allowed for discovery.  In the last week, however, the City has produced several sets of documents, now under review. 

JPW is assisting with document review.  One fun find:  the City and Obama Foundation have repeatedly asserted that Cornell Drive was originally designed by Olmsted as a “bridle path,” with the implication that it was narrow and the pace slow. To the contrary, in the Sam Schwartz Engineering traffic studies conducted for the Obama Foundation in 2015, we found this: “The streets within the park were originally designed to allow horse and buggies to easily traverse through them. This design provided excess space for modern vehicles, which has led to vehicles using these streets to speed through the park.”

Obama Foundation documents reviewed

Because of the discovery requirements set forth by Judge Blakey, the Obama Foundation has also released a new set of documents relating to its selection of the Jackson Park site under the not-too-subtle banner of “Jackson Park: The Right Choice.”

We encourage you to take a look at the 2014 analysis of the proposals received by the Obama Foundation as it ramped up preparations for the Obama Presidential Center (then Library).  Even more interesting is the 2016 analysis by U3Advisors of the economic impact, risks, and opportunities of locating the OPC in either Washington Park or Jackson Park/Woodlawn. 

Both analyses demonstrated that the Washington Park location was at least as favorable as the Jackson Park/Woodlawn location.  They also make it clear that one decisive difference was the relative risk and difficulty of the task:  The Jackson Park location was the safe choice, with well-established partner organizations ready to help out (MSI, Apostolic Church of God, for example, in addition to the University).  On the other hand, while the Washington Park location was considerably more aligned with the Obama Foundation’s claim to be engaged in community development and transformation, no such partner organizations were already on hand and having to serve as the main engine of change single-handedly posed a far more difficult set of challenges. One might suggest that, rather than the “right” choice, Jackson Park was the “safe” choice.

Also of interest is the economic impact study  completed in 2016 but now released in full for the first time.  Relying on projections of visits to the OPC as well as potential developments and events that may or may not materialize, it can best be considered aspirational.

Interesting commentary

For those inclined to more reading and a more measured assessment, we recommend the fine Next City commentary on the likely impacts of the Obama Presidential Center on Chicago’s South Side.  It takes a somewhat new and very useful look at the voices and issues involved.


Thanks to all who have recently offered financial support.  As always, we welcome your contributions.  Checks made out to Jackson Park Watch can be sent to directly to Jackson Park Watch, P.O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615.  Checks from donor-directed funds should be sent to our fiscal sponsor Friends of the Parks at FOTP, 17 N. State St., Suite 1450, Chicago 60602.  Such checks should be made out to FOTP with a note stating they are intended for Jackson Park Watch. 

As always, we thank you.

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

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