Jackson Park Watch Update – June 13, 2019

Greetings, all!

Once again, a lot is happening.

POP: JPW’s review

JPW Update readers have certainly all seen the widely disseminated news that Federal District Judge John R. Blakey ruled in the City’s favor and dismissed the Protect Our Parks lawsuit contesting the siting of the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park.  If you missed it, there was coverage in a wide variety of Chicago media outlets including the Sun-Times, Tribune, and Hyde Park Herald

Some key points:

  • Given the importance of the public trust stewardship issues that the POP lawsuit raised, JPW was disappointed that Judge Blakey issued a narrow ruling based on a narrow reading of the 1970 Paepcke decision by the Illinois Supreme Court.  That decision concerned the permissible scope of judicial review in public trust cases. 
  • Protect Our Parks is almost certainly going to appeal.  JPW will once again provide technical assistance if asked.
  • Despite Judge Blakey’s confusing comment that OPC construction can now begin, don’t expect to see groundbreaking anytime soon.  Putting aside the Protect Our Parks litigation, nothing can happen until the federal reviews are complete.
  • Of note is Mayor Lightfoot’s 6/11 statement addressing the District Court’s ruling.  We welcome her emphasis on working with community stakeholders and the Obama Foundation to resolve remaining issues, of which there are many. 


“Chicago is where President Obama discovered his love for community service, and the Obama Presidential Center will honor his presidency and inspire the next generation of leaders. The court today made unequivocally clear that this project may be located in Jackson Park, marking a significant step forward in this historic project and for our entire city. I am committed to ensuring that this community hub creates unprecedented cultural opportunities and economic growth on the South Side. I look forward to working with community stakeholders and the Obama Foundation to ensure that neighboring communities share in this growth. Toward that important end, I look forward to meeting with community stakeholders and the Obama Foundation to resolve remaining issues so that the benefits of this important project can be shared by all.”

  • JPW and others are asking the Lightfoot administration to “push the pause button” and conduct a legitimate community review of the OPC and related proposals before moving ahead.  JPW made that case in its contribution to Crain’s topical coverage of the issues facing  the new administration, #Lightfoot100 Hopes for Chicago (scroll down to find discussion of the OPC).

CBA Ordinance to move forward

A Community Benefits Agreement to protect South Side residents from displacement resulting from the development of the OPC has moved a step closer to realization with a joint commitment by Aldermen Leslie Hairston and Jeanette Taylor to introduce a CBA ordinance at the June meeting of the City Council. Mayor Lightfoot’s stated support for such an agreement is key. To celebrate this important step the Obama CBA Coalition sponsored an energetic and joyful forum on June 6, featuring the two aldermen and speakers from the communities that will be most affected by the OPC.

Piecemeal approach to the golf project not in the works

The Daily Herald recently reported on a new approach to the controversial proposal to merge the Jackson Park and South Shore golf courses promoted by golf entrepreneur Mike Keiser, who asserted: “We’re about to decide that we’ll do it in phases.  We’ll go ahead with [the] design on South Shore until the other course is ready.  The holes on South Shore will be stunning.” Staff of the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance (CPGA) subsequently confirmed the intent to begin construction at South Shore in the fall. 

JPW and others suspect that this is first and foremost a marketing plan, intended to jumpstart the anemic fundraising efforts of the CPGA by showcasing the two new “money” holes along the lakefront that would destroy the South Shore Nature Sanctuary and infringe on the beach.

In follow-up JPW contacted senior Park District staff and was once again told that construction on the golf project could not possibly begin in 2019 for multiple reasons. Schematic plans are far from complete, necessary reviews have not been completed nor permits secured, necessary infrastructure to stabilize the shoreline at South Shore and to connect the two courses is not complete (or even started), and, key to all elements of the proposal, the necessary private funding has not yet been secured.  JPW was also assured that the idea of dividing the project into two phases for purposes of fundraising and construction, though once considered two years ago, was no longer an option as that would greatly increase the total construction cost.

Additionally, on June 12 JPW spoke to thePark District’s Board of Commissioners, asking that Superintendent Mike Kelly make a public statement affirming that work on the reconfigured South Shore golf course will not start in 2019 and that nothing will occur unless the community has indicated clear support.  Stay tuned.

Osaka Garden work raises questions

Work has begun on what may become a major rebuilding of the waterfall in the Osaka Garden on the Wooded Island in Jackson Park.  The pathway leading to the entrance to the Garden may undergo substantial changes in the near future.  Further, Japanese garden experts are mapping out major changes in the layout of the entire garden, including a new fence, expansion of the enclosed area, changes to plantings and the shoreline, and more.

What questions does this raise?  The results may be beautiful.  But we focus once again on transparency and accountability and on the need for community review and opportunities for input. Additionally, as was the case with the Yoko Ono sculpture (likely to be enclosed by the new fence), this appears to be a situation in which third party funders are not only paying for but  also planning and directing what work will be done.  For a public park, public input on major changes is essential, and the Park District Board itself should have sign-off on third party projects.

JPW has raised these concerns with the Park District and will be monitoring the situation. 


As always, we welcome your contributions.  You can donate in three ways:

  • You can contribute via PayPal here.
  • You can contribute via checks made out to Jackson Park Watch sent to directly to Jackson Park Watch, P.O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615. 
  • You can contribute via checks from donor-directed funds sent to our fiscal sponsor Friends of the Parks at FOTP, 17 N. State St., Suite 1450, Chicago 60602, ATTN Nicole Machuca.  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