Jackson Park Watch Update – November 26, 2019

Greetings, allBest wishes for a joyful Thanksgiving and, if you are traveling, for safe and happy travels!

CBA affordable housing issues appear to advance but no movement on OPC review

Despite some delays and disappointments, the CBA Coalition has continued to press ahead and their persistence and that of Aldermen Jeanette Taylor and Leslie Hairston now appears to have paid off.  Mayor Lori Lightfoot has expressed support for the underlying issues of insuring affordable housing and avoiding displacement.   Representatives of the City’s Law and Housing departments met with the aldermen to discuss how to address technical legal problems with the CBA ordinance that was introduced in July.  We’ll keep you posted.

Meanwhile, there has been no forward movement in the federal reviews related to the Obama Presidential Center itself.  After the chaotic August 5 public presentation of the draft Assessment of Effects to Historic Properties, a twice-postponed follow-up meeting of Section 106 consulting parties has still not been rescheduled.  No information about a possible date is available

Further, a review mandated by the National Environmental PolicyAct (NEPA) of 1966 must also be completed as part of the federal review. The conduct of the NEPA review itself is unclear because responsibility for its management shifted from the Federal Highway Administration to the National Park Service in mid-2018.  Initial NEPA documents done by the FHWA and the City before then attempt to gloss over the mandatory 4(f) review assessing alternatives to the major road changes planned to accommodate Obama Foundation wishes.  In addition, numerous consulting parties have argued that the NEPA review should include a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) because of the scale of the impact the proposed OPC would have on Jackson Park and the adjacent neighborhoods.

It is unclear what comes next.  All told, it appears likely that many more months of waiting are in store.

What’s up with the proposed golf course merger?

Here again is a project – announced with great fanfare back in December of 2016! – that has failed to move forward.

First there were two years of boosterish presentations and attempted fundraising.  Then in December 2018 the Park District hired SmithGroup, an engineering consulting firm, to prepare design and construction documents for the merger of the Jackson Park and South Shore golf courses.  The 3-year contract anticipated that construction would begin in fall 2019 and the “golf package” would completed by fall 2021. 

Recently, however, Park District officials have reported that SmithGroup has been told to stop further work on the golf project because it was not clear when or if it was going forward.  Guiding the decision was the combination of weak fundraising by the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance, the uncertainty about key elements of the plan (e.g., the underpasses) as a result of the on-going federal reviews of the OPC plans, and the new, urgent focus by the Park District on shoreline problems along the entire lakefront.

The shift in focus and schedules was evident at the October 2019 meeting of the Park District board, when it approved a separate 3-year consulting contract with SmithGroup for development of Phase 1 of a Lakefront Strategic Action Plan that would address erosion problems along the entire Chicago lakefront, from Evanston to Indiana.   The work will include a comprehensive inventory analysis of existing conditions, a strategy for prioritizing improvements, and key ways to partner with other local, state, and federal agencies (e.g., US Army Corps of Engineers).  Future phases of the project will include detailed improvement strategies for specific sites along the lakefront, dependent on the availability of state and federal funding.  The seriousness of the shoreline problem has been highlighted in the Tribune and the Sun-Times , showing emergency work just launched in Rogers Park and noting plans for similar temporary fixes to be done on the south side, at 49th Street and 67th Street, in the next few weeks. 

So where does this leave the Tiger Woods golf project that is dependent on coastal improvements at South Shore?  Perhaps underwater, certainly in for a long delay.

MPAC officers re-elected after a battle

In what had become in effect a proxy war over the Obama Presidential Center, the incumbent officers of the Midway Plaisance Advisory Council were readily re-elected on November 13.  The MPAC connection to the OPC concerned the Obama Foundation’s proposal to utilize the east end of the Midway Plaisance for an above-ground parking garage, something that the officers and a majority of the membership opposed. A second connection was the subsequent attempt by the City of Chicago to designate that same area as “UPAAR replacement parkland,” a move that generated serious concerns by a large number of members and prompted the submission of a letter to the City objecting to any plan that would jeopardize the park’s listing on the National Register of Historical Places.  In response, a competing slate of officers had been nominated. 

The election meeting attracted close to 100 MPAC members and featured on-going attempts by some to delay or postpone the vote.  Less well known is that fact that those advocating delay had been lobbying Park District officials to cancel the meeting up until shortly before the meeting began, alleging various improper conduct by MPAC officers.  Upon review, the Park District officials had found that all notifications, procedures, and provisions for voting were in order, and the meeting proceeded as scheduled.


As always, we welcome your financial support.  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 Kevin Winters.  Such checks should be made out to FOTP with a note stating they are intended for Jackson Park Watch. 

Once again, we thank you.

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid
Co-presidents, Jackson Park Watch www.jacksonparkwatch.org

Jackson Park Watch Update – November 2, 2019

Greetings, all!

The Obama Foundation Summit
Protect Our Parks Appeal Brief Filed
Those Trees:  Worth saving?  Dying?  Healthy and mature?

The Message from the Obama Foundation Summit – Trust Us

The Obama Foundation hosted its third annual invitation-only Summit earlier this week, featuring celebrities, donors, and participants in its Obama Scholar programs.  Interviews with President and Mrs. Obama headlined the agenda, which had the theme of “Places Reveal our Purpose.”   As reported in BlockClubChicago and Crain’s, the Obamas reiterated their goal of replacing Jackson Park as it now is with a South Side version of the Museum Campus and Millennium Park.  They dismissed Jackson Park today as “underutilized” except by golfers and failed to acknowledge Olmsted’s vision for the park as an exceptional natural and open area offering respite from the congestion of urban life.   The Obamas repeated their assertion that the OPC would be an economic catalyst for the South Side, but offered no actual information as to how that could happen. Interestingly, when former President Obama described the OPC he stated “… we want this to be a university for activism and social change.”

In connection with the meeting, the Obama Foundation released revised designs for the Obama Presidential Campus, showing minor tweaks to the interior of the public library and the children’s playgrounds and some changes to the exterior of the massive 235-foot museum tower meant to make it less intimidating and more “elegant.”  The Tribune’s Blair Kamin concluded “there’s more work to be done,” and the architects have already said they are working on further refinements. 

So where do things stand? The federal reviews are on-going, albeit apparently stalled for now.  Community members continue to express strong reservations about the plans in letters and interviews.  The Protect Our Parks appeal continues (see below).  All in all, while there is overwhelming support for having the OPC on the South Side, the consequences of a top-down planning process that imposed an inappropriate design and major tax-payer-funded road changes on historic Jackson Park continue to play themselves out.  Had the Obamas chosen a different location, construction would be well underway.  Under the circumstances, “trust us” isn’t sufficient.

POP appeal brief filed

The Protect Our Parks brief outlining its appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit was filed October 25, emphasizing the core issue of appropriate stewardship by the City of invaluable public trust land.  It is this issue that JPW has consistently pointed to as making the POP efforts worthy of note.  A second issue highlighted in the appeal is whether, in leaving all decisions about the site selection and design of the OPC up to the Obama Foundation, the City engaged in an improper delegation of its authority and responsibilities.

The POP appeal brief is posted on the POP Lawsuit page on the JPW website.   The City and Park District now have until November 25 to file their response.  POP must then file a reply by December 16.  Sometime after that submission a date will be set for oral arguments, likely for late winter.  It will be heard by a panel of three appellate judges drawn from among the judges on the Seventh Circuit.  The identity of the designated judges will not be known in advance of the hearing.

On a related note, as reported in the August 16 JPW Update, after the Section 106 Assessment of Effects (AOE) report was released in late July, POP filed a motion to reopen the initial review under Judge Blakey to take into account the AOE report.  That motion is on hold pending action by Judge Blakey.

Dead and Dying OR Alive and Healthy?

Sharply divergent perspectives on the actual status of the proposed OPC site today were offered up in recent Crain’s Chicago Business pieces by two community members.  As is so often the case in public pronouncements made in our era, one had to wonder if the protagonists had the same space in mind. 

On the one hand was Louise McCurry, president of the Jackson Park Advisory Council, with   “The dirty little secret….”

And on the other hand was JPW’s Margaret Schmid with “I don’t recognize that park….”

 (A note to readers: we recognize that not everyone can get past Crain’s paywall.  We apologize in advance.  Schmid’s article refers to a professional study of the trees that now grow on the proposed OPC site that includes details about specific trees and maps of tree locations. We highly recommend it even if you cannot link to the Crain’s pieces.)

Divergent perspectives on the proposed OPC site were also evident on October 26 when a group of preservationists – led by Ross Peterson, former president of the  Jackson Park Advisory Council, and Herb Caplan of Protect Our Parks – gathered  there to tie red ribbons around the many mature trees throughout the park that would be removed to construct the OPC campus and the roadway reconfigurations it requires.   Seemingly unable to tolerate the demonstration, some community members removed the ribbons as rapidly as they were wrapped around the trees.  The Hyde Park Herald captured the standoff and the varying opinions.  The debate goes on.


As always, we welcome your financial support.  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 Kevin Winters.  Such checks should be made out to FOTP with a note stating they are intended for Jackson Park Watch. 

Once again, we thank you.

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