Greetings, all!

There is action on many fronts!  See below for news on:

  • The Assessment of Effects (AOE) report
    • Be sure to look at what you can do;
  • The golf course proposal and the Nature Sanctuary;
  • The Protect Our Parks legal appeal.

More on the Assessment of Effects (AOE) report

We remind readers that the stated purpose of the entire federally mandated Section 106 historic review process is preservation of historic places and identification of threats to them.  This well-established process, dating back to the 1960s when the construction of the federal highway system endangered multiple historic places, includes clear review criterion and procedural requirements.

Key contents of  the AOE: 

As was widely noted when it was first released, the draft AOE report  correctly concludes that the plans to construct the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park along with the related road changes will have clear, significant adverse effects on the historic park

However, the AOE incorrectly argues that there will be no adverse effects on historic properties or historic districts in the near neighborhoods.  The AOE comes to this conclusion using two erroneous and incomplete sets of data. 

  • It relies on the traffic study CDOT used in developing its plans to accommodate the OPC design by closing Cornell Drive between 59th and 63rd streets, closing the eastbound Midway Plaisance, and making other massive road changes.  Among other short-comings, that study failed to do a thorough analysis of where traffic would be diverted as a result – for example, onto 67th street or other side streets through Hyde Park and South Shore.  (See JPW’s independent  traffic study for discussion of those issues.)
  • It fails completely to include an above-ground-level analysis of the visual impact of the Obama museum tower on the area, arguing that, despite the ready availability of inexpensive technology to do such a review, the City does not have the relevant technology.

In addition, the section of the AOE report on recreation and UPARR replacement parkland is misleading and incomplete.  In proposing to take over the 5.2 acres at the east end of the Midway Plaisance for replacement parkland, replete with a fenced in playground, the City is for the first time apparently conceding that more than just one acre of replacement parkland is required to balance the loss of  the 19.3 acres of public park that would be handed over to the OPC.  However, this proposed use of the Midway space would do nothing to provide parkland in the park-poor Woodlawn or South Shore.  It is opposed by the Midway Park Advisory Council.  The Midway is itself on the National Register of Historic Places; “replacing” historic parkland with historic parkland makes little sense.  The National Park Service, whose approval is required, has not signed off on either the amount of replacement parkland that will be needed or the proposed site.

Problems compounded by August 5 meetings

The problems with process throughout the development of the plans for the OPC and road changes are well known – staged and manipulated public meetings being central to them.  The August 5 meetings held to review the AOE report, required by the federal process, unfortunately provided a rerun of the severe shortcomings in how the City managed the process under former Mayor Emanuel.  As reported in the Sun-Times and Crain’s, JPW joined with other concerned organizations to point out to Mayor Lightfoot the contrast between the continued use of such ham-handed tactics and her administration’s commitment to transparency, accountability, and community input, urging her to provide leadership in forging a resolution that will facilitate both the construction of the OPC on the South Side and the preservation of historic Jackson Park. 

What you can do

The next federally mandated steps in the Section 106 process require consideration of ways to avoid, minimize, or mitigate the adverse effects of the OPC and road plans on Jackson Park.  What do you think should be done and why?  The federal review process requires accepting and considering public comments on these issues.  Your comments would become part of the record in the case, which is far from over.

Attempting micro-definitions of “avoidance” or “minimization” as opposed to “mitigation” is not useful here.  But some examples might help:  moving the OPC to another location outside of Jackson Park a very clear example of “avoidance.”  Keeping Cornell open (albeit with fewer lanes, traffic calming, and pedestrian enhancements), keeping the eastbound segment of Midway Plaisance open, dramatically “right-sizing” the Obama tower, and saving the maximum number of healthy mature trees would constitute  examples of “minimization.”   

The draft AOE report includes a section arguing implausibly that the OPC design itself already constitutes “minimization,” and that thus only “mitigation” is appropriate now. Comments by City and highway agency representatives at the August 5 meetings showed that they think appropriate mitigation would be such things as taking photos, counting trees to be cut, and creating an archival record of the Park as it looks today before the current site is in effect destroyed. 

JPW and many others are deeply concerned about this approach, which, if executed, would not only spell the end of a significant portion of historic Jackson Park and presumably the end to its listing on the National Register, but would set a precedent that would threaten the integrity and functioning of the Section 106 process itself. 

We urge you to send your suggestions about what can and should be done to address the causes of the adverse effects documented in the AOE report   You can also comment on specific findings of the draft report if you see gaps or mistakes that should be corrected for the final version.  In addition to the text of the report, linked above, the appendices and the presentation slides from August 5 are available on the City’s website.

Send your comments by August 30 to the designated recipient: Abby Monroe at the City’s Department of Planning and Development,  Abby.Monroe@cityofchicago.org, and to the other lead personnel:  Matt Fuller for FHWA at matt.fuller@dot.gov; Lee Tersiz for the NPS at lee_terzis@nps.gov;  Nate Roseberry for CDOT at nathan.roseberry@cityofchicago.org; Heather Gleason for the Park District at heather.gleason@chicagoparkdistrict.com; and Brad Koldehoff for IDOT at brad.koldehoff@illinois.gov.                                 

Please also share your comments with key City decision-makers: 

Mayor Lori Lightfoot lori.lightfoot@cityofchicago.org       

Chief of Staff Maurice Classen maurice.classen@cityofchicago.org

Deputy Mayor for Economic and Neighborhood Development Samir Mayekar    Samir.Mayekar@cityofchicago.org           

Chief Engagement Officer Juan Carlos Linares Juan.Linares@cityofchicago.org

Chief Equity Officer Candace Moore candace.moore@cityofchicago.org                                   

Golf course in the news – again

News reports in June indicated that proponents of the Tiger Woods-designed golf course expansion/merger in Jackson Park and South Shore planned  to use Woods’ presence in the area this week for the  BMW Championship at Medinah Country Club to help market the plan.  Among those proponents is Alderman Leslie Hairston. Described as gung-ho for the golf course project, Hairston told the Sun-Times she would like to take Mayor Lightfoot, a skeptic of the project, on a tour of the nature sanctuary at South Shore Cultural Center “because it’s actually all dead. And it’s been dead for some years.” 

JPW and other advocates for the preservation of the nature sanctuary and other recreational and natural features that would be obliterated by the expanded golf course found this quite strange.  A gorgeous photo of the sanctuary in full bloom, taken the morning of August 14 and totally disproving the Alderman’s description, was quickly posted on Twitter,  shared by JPW with the Board of Commissioners of the Park District at its monthly meeting, and widely circulated in the Sun-Times and BlockClubChicago.  We sincerely hope Alderman Hairston will indeed soon take the Mayor on a tour at South Shore so that they both can enjoy the beauty and tranquility of the space.

Protect Our Parks appeal and the AOE

The Protect Our Parks legal team, arguing that the information in the AOE report has a material impact on the POP lawsuit, has asked Federal Judge John R. Blakey to re-open the case so that the information in the AOE can be considered.  The City’s response to that request, just filed on  Thursday, ignores the substance of the AOE findings and argues that the report is not relevant. A hearing on these arguments has not yet been scheduled.  We will keep you posted.

In the meantime, here is a recent comment by POP attorney Richard Epstein on the broader issues being argued in the POP suit. 


Thanks as always to all who have recently offered financial support, support that enables us to retain expert legal counsel.  You can contribute in three ways:

  • 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 PayPal here.
  • 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 Kyla Williams.  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

Jackson Park Watch – August 8, 2019

Greetings, all!

AOE meetings a huge disappointment

Both the consulting party and public meetings last Monday (8/5),  convened to discuss the recently released Assessment of Effects (AOE) report, were huge disappointments.  (See JPW Updates for July 29 and August 1 for background information on the AOE.) Just that morning the Tribune had published a letter from JPW, underlining the gravity of the accounting of the adverse impact on Jackson Park and the Midway Plaisance of the proposed OPC and related road changes, and expressing hope for an effective review.   Despite these sessions occurring under a new administration, there were no traces of the transparency, accountability, or openness to community input that we have come to expect of Mayor Lightfoot’s leadership. Thoughtful questions received rote responses or incomplete answers.  Representatives from FHWA, IDOT, and CDOT essentially disregarded the AOE finding of significant adverse effects, and asserted instead that such adverse findings are routine, that the projects can still move forward, and that there will be instead alleged “improvements” to the Park.  

Reports by Block Club Chicago and WBEZ captured the concerns and disappointment felt by many attendees. The City has posted a vimeo of the consulting parties meeting  along with its presentation slides and other documents on its inaptly named “Jackson Park Improvements” website.

If you were there…

If you were at the meeting, you will certainly have your own assessment of the event.  We urge you to write to Mayor Lori Lightfoot at lori.lightfoot@cityofchicago.org to share your opinion (include a cc to her Chief of Staff Maurice Classen at maurice.classen@cityofchicago.org and also a cc to her Director of Community Engagement Juan Carlos Linares at juan.linares@cityofchicago.org).  We also hope that you will submit a separate, more analytical comment on the AOE report itself as part of the Section 106 review process by the August 30 deadline.  We will provide more information on potential points to make and where to submit your comments in the next Update.

If you were not there…

If you have enough information about the meeting to have opinions to share, we urge you to write Mayor Lori Lightfoot at lori.lightfoot@cityofchicago.org to share your opinion (include a cc to her Chief of Staff Maurice Classen at maurice.classen@cityofchicago.org and also a cc to her Director of Community Engagement Juan Carlos Linares at juan.linares@cityofchicago.org).  We think it is urgently important that Mayor Lightfoot hear from the many members of the community who are hoping that she will bring her legendary problem-solving skills to bear on crafting a broadly acceptable compromise to this conflict.  Sadly, there was no evidence of that approach at Monday’s meetings.  We urge you as well to consider submitting comments on the AOE report itself.

AOE Prompts New Filing by Protect Our Parks

The AOE report is having ripple effects beyond the Section 106 review process.   Protect Our Parks, which is now at the appeal stage of its lawsuit to block the siting of the OPC in Jackson Park, has filed a new motion seeking to vacate (i.e.,  cancel) the ruling of June 11 that dismissed POP’s suit against the City and Park District. Noting the unequivocal conclusion in the AOE report that the OPC will have an adverse impact on Jackson Park, POP asserts that the report contains information of direct relevance to the facts of its suit, in particular to the City’s claim to be “improving” Jackson Park, that should be considered in adjudicating the case.  The new motion will be considered next week, as reported in the Herald.


Thanks to all who have recently offered financial support.  As always, we welcome your contributions.  You can contribute in three ways:

  • 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 PayPal here.
  • 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.  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

Jackson Park Watch Update – August 1, 2019

Greetings, all!

The federal reviews have resumed with the recent release of the 61-page Assessment Of Effects (AOE) report which concludes that plans for the Obama Presidential Center and related road changes will have an adverse impact on historic Jackson Park and the Midway Plaisance. It has drawn major attention, confirming that observers who have questioned the suitability of the plan as proposed for the historic Park are correct.  The report is lengthy, technical, inconsistent (different sections were obviously written by different parties), but also significant, setting the stage for new phases in this on-going saga.  Since we know that not everyone has the time or stamina to read it through, this Update will:

  • Highlight several issues that are of key importance to Jackson Park and the near neighborhoods:
  • overall adverse impact of the Obama Foundation plans for OPC site;
  • traffic; and
  • recreation/parkland replacement.
  • Comment on reactions by the Obama Foundation and by Mayor Lightfoot.
  • Reiterate the importance of attendance at the public meeting on the AOE report that will occur Monday, August 5, from 6 to 8 pm at the Logan Center on the U Chicago campus (915 E. 60th Street, first-floor theater).

Three key issues

Adverse impact on Jackson Park. 

In strong and clear language, the most significant portion of the AOE (pp. 28-33) concludes that the proposed OPC buildings and campus  and  related road changes will have a host of adverse impacts on Jackson Park and also on portions of the Midway Plaisance. There has been widespread coverage of the report, including in Block Club Chicago and the Sun-Times.  When considering the historic Park as it is today and comparing it with the Obama Foundation/City plans to clear cut and level the site, erect a 235’/23-story museum tower, and make major road changes throughout the area, this conclusion is no surprise.  This finding raises important questions:  Would the Obama Foundation be willing to “right size” the museum tower”?  Leave Cornell Drive and eastbound Midway Plaisance open? Develop a plan to save as many trees on the site as possible rather than cutting them all?

After the August 5 meetings, changes will likely be made to the AOE to reflect input from consulting parties and the public. The next step in this process will be federally mandated efforts to identify possible changes to the plans that would avoid, minimize, or mitigate the adverse impacts on the Park.


JPW has long been concerned with the Obama Foundation demands to close Cornell Drive between 59th and 63rd streets and eastbound Midway Plaisance east of Stony Island and to make additional major changes to areas roadways, all at taxpayer expense.  Not only are taxpayers being asked to foot the bill, but this plan is discretionary: Obama Foundation officials have told JPW in private meetings on two occasions that the OPC could be located in Jackson Park even if Cornell Drive were to remain open.  Further, a satisfactory analysis of the traffic impacts has never been forthcoming.

There is an available alternative.  Prior to the selection of Jackson Park for the OPC, Project 120 developed a  plan to slim Cornell Drive to four lanes throughout and to slow traffic by adding traffic calming features, a proposal that was endorsed by the Park District itself.  JPW commissioned an expert traffic analysis  that came up with a similar proposal, a proposal that the City has refused to acknowledge. 

JPW’s traffic expert also raised a series of questions about gaps in the traffic data that the City continues to rely on in this AOE.  One key issue is the complete absence of analysis of the spillover traffic impacts of the closure on Cornell on roads throughout the area, both larger roads such as Stony Island, Lake Shore Drive, 67th Street, and Jeffrey, and the myriad of neighborhood streets that already suffer from intermittent traffic overload. A second key concern is lack of attention to parking needs in and around the park.  The underground garage at the OPC is designed to accommodate visitors to the OPC museum and events.  But for regular, local users of the Park, the loss of on-street parking along Hayes and Marquette has not been addressed, and the impact of parking spillover in the surrounding neighborhoods (including by OPC visitors) has not been assessed.

This absent data is now critical:  In the sections of the AOE assessing impacts on historic buildings and historic districts, the City asserts that there will be only “minor traffic increases that will not be perceptible” and concludes that there will be no adverse impacts whatsoever on those adjacent areas (pp. 16-17).   This is an assertion that the Obama Foundation has seized on its media efforts to diminish the damaging AOE assessment of adverse impact on Jackson Park. 

JPW suggests that increased traffic and parking problems would cause widespread adverse effects that are simply left out in the current iteration of the AOE.  Likewise simply ignored are the hazards of increased traffic for pedestrians and school-related vehicular and pedestrian traffic associated with the three schools along Stony Island Avenue.

Recreation and parkland replacement

Despite the seemingly final descriptions in the portions of the AOE that deal specifically with recreation changes in Jackson Park (pp. 3- 4),  the National Park Service has not signed off on anything related to either proposed changes in recreational opportunities or parkland replacement (see p. 5). 

In brief, the City proposes that the existing recreational facilities and spaces on the OPC site would be replaced with new recreational facilities on the OPC site rather than with new recreational facilities for local users in new replacement park space elsewhere in the surrounding communities.  While such facilities on the OPC site would presumably be open to all, local users would be in competition with tourists.  Further, the OPC site would be privately controlled green space, maintained and secured by the Obama Foundation rather than the Park District, so access to these areas would be subject to Obama Foundation policies. 

Additionally, as the AOE report newly describes in detail, the City has renewed its attempt to designate the east end of the Midway Plaisance park as its preferred UPARR replacement parkland.   To quote: 

Finally, the City proposes to dedicate acreage as replacement recreation opportunity on the eastern portion of the Midway Plaisance bounded by the North and South Midway Plaisance, Stony Island Avenue, and the Metra railway…. The City proposes modifying the Eastern Midway to accommodate a combination of open space and formal play area.  In order to accomplish this project, the central area would reduce in size.  The western side of the historic sunken lawn would be altered with the addition of a play area and walks….”   (p. 4)

As the AOE report makes clear on  pp. 23-24, this  newly detailed proposal for a  play area on the east end of the Midway would have an adverse impact on the Midway, itself an historic landmarked park .  Still to be decided by NPS is exactly how much replacement parkland is required  to compensate for the turnover of park space for the OPC.   There is mention of a future public process to address these issues, but no details of the timing or format.

Responses by some key actors

Predictably, and in keeping with its style of  media management, the Obama Foundation has said all is well — we expected this, no design changes needed — and in fact has touted the resumption of the federal review process as a victory.  Their response can be seen most fully in the Hyde Park Herald’s 7/29 article commenting on the AOE release.  How well this continuing refusal to compromise on anything of significance will work for the Obama Foundation is yet to be seen.

In keeping with her approach to the many major issues she is confronting, Mayor Lightfoot has taken a measured approach, emphasizing listening to community voices.  It is for this reason that we strongly urge participation in the public meeting on the AOE that will be held Monday evening August 5 from 6 to 8 pm at the Logan Center on the U Chicago campus  (915 E. 60th Street, first-floor theater ). The meeting will begin with a formal presentation and Q&A session in the auditorium, followed by a poster session in the lobby with staff to field additional questions and take comments.  The extent of participation and the comments by participants will be of great interest to Mayor Lightfoot and her administration.  We urge people to be there are to voice their questions and concerns.