Jackson Park Watch Update- May 8, 2019

Greetings, all!

Mayor-elect Lightfoot wants your ideas

Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot and her transition team are soliciting citizen ideas for a better Chicago.  JPW has learned that this input is taken seriously, responses are reviewed, and numbers tallied.  If you have not already submitted your views about critical issues facing us –the current proposal for the Obama Presidential Center, the costly and problematic road changes, the proposal for an expanded, PGA-level golf course in Jackson  and South Shore Parks –  please be sure to do so as soon as possible.

Some possibilities:

· In the Good Governance section, ask Mayor-elect Lightfoot to institute a legitimate community review of the proposals for the OPC, road changes, and golf course expansion and merger; note that to date “community input” has been limited and manipulated; ask her to ensure that the federal review process is careful and complete, without cutting corners or by-passing key steps.

· In the Environment section, question what the impact of the proposed OPC and its campus would be on the existing character of Jackson Park, its natural features, and its renowned birds; ask whether it makes sense to cut down hundreds of existing mature trees for the OPC campus, and thousands more for the proposed “professional level” golf course; ask for a careful analysis of the impact of the OPC on the surrounding neighborhoods as well as on Jackson Park.

·In the Transportation section, note your concerns about the likely adverse impacts of the proposed road changes throughout the South Side; ask for a complete review of the unanswered questions about the feasibility of the CDOT traffic plan; point out that the taxpayer funds that would be used for this discretionary set of road changes could be better used for many other projects in the Chicago area.

As a recent Sun-Times editorial noted:  “Lori Lightfoot campaigned on this. She argued as a candidate for mayor that ordinary Chicagoans — the people of the neighborhoods most likely to gain or be hurt — should have a greater say in the development of megaprojects like the Obama Presidential Center, “The 78” and Lincoln Yards.”   Have your say now.

New administration, new faces, new possibilities?

Each new Mayor brings in new faces in key positions.  Three top officials have been key to aggressively moving ahead Rahm Emanuel’s plans for the OPC, road changes, and golf course expansion:

· David Reifman, head of the Department of Planning and Development, ensured that the OPC and CDOT road proposals would experience smooth sailing at both the City Plan Commission and City Council, no questions asked, and also has contributed a key staffer to “manage” the federal review process that has proven opaque, rushed, and controversial;

· Rebekah Scheinfeld, CDOT Commissioner,  ensured that the CDOT would develop a roads plan narrowly focused to accommodate the Obama Foundation’s desire to close parts of Cornell Drive and the Midway Plaisance, and also contributed a key staffer to help “manage” the federal review process.

· Michael Kelly, Park District CEO, falls into a different category.  The Park District is nominally an independent agency, although all members of the Park District’s Board of Commissioners are nominated by the Mayor and its actual independence is questionable.  Kelly’s role in the flawed process of planning for Jackson Park has been outsized as well, and Emanuel thinks highly of him for it:  “There’s not a single thing I’ve asked him to do that doesn’t get done.”

JPW will be among those watching to see Mayor Lightfoot’s appointments after she is officially in office.  Perhaps along with some new faces there may be new openness and new views in some key positions.  That would be warmly welcomed.

Golf Course Project Gets Renewed Critical Attention

While formal plans for the golf course expansion have yet to be finalized for submission to the Plan Commission or other official review and while the cost problems mount, the project continues to prompt controversy.  As reported in the Herald, the debate at the First Unitarian Church of Hyde Park’s April 28 forum about the golf course proposal evidenced the strong feelings on each side.  A Tribune editorial, headlined “Give Chicagoans more details about the planned Tiger Woods golf course,” better captured the prevailing sense of frustration about the lack of straight answers and full information from the Park District and the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance. 

For additional useful information and perspectives on the options for improving the golf courses, we recommend two recent on-line commentaries by Bill Daniels, Jackson Park golfer and golf industry expert:   an  entertaining  summary of 9 holes in Tiger’s plan, and a comparison of Tiger’s plan with one drawn up earlier by renowned course architect Tom Doak (commissioned by the University of Chicago for its bid to the Obama Foundation, but made public only recently by the POP lawsuit)

Update on  POP lawsuit.

On May 3 Protect Our Parks submitted its Motion for Summary Judgment to Federal Judge John R. Blakey.  It asks the court to rule in POP’s favor and require the Obama Center to be relocated to another South Side location. The City and Park District also submitted their joint Motion for Summary Judgment, asking the court to rule in their favor. 

There is tight schedule for the subsequent steps in the case:

·   May 17 for the responses to these motions;

·   May 24 for the replies to those responses; and

·   May 30 for a hearing on the motions.

We will continue to report on progress in this important case, raising as it does key questions concerning the responsible safeguarding of invaluable public assets such as Jackson Park.

Sad news on Darrow Bridge

According to an April 24 article in the Hyde Park Herald (not available on-line), renovation work on the much loved – and much needed – Darrow Bridge continues to lag. The Darrow Bridge is the sole link between the west and east sides of Jackson Park for the six-block-long stretch from 57th Street to Hayes Drive.  It has been closed to pedestrian traffic since 2015, leading to far less utilization of significant parts of the northeast segment of the Park.