Greetings, all! Best
wishes for a happy holiday season and the new year.
In this Update:
- Looking back: four
- Looking ahead: what’s
next for the OPC, golf course projects
- Lake levels rising
As we move into 2020, JPW heads into its fifth year. It is a good time to review objectives that still
guide JPW’s work. Our goals are to
- transparency in
decision-making about Jackson Park;
- meaningful community
input on major changes to the Park;
- preservation of the
Park as a democratic public space with priority to local uses and users; and
- development of one
comprehensive plan for the entire Park.
JPW originated out of concerns about ill-defined plans for a
visitor center and outdoor music venue adjacent to the Museum of Science and
Industry put forward by a little known organization, Project 120. JPW ultimately surfaced a secretive Agreement
between the president of Project 120 and Park District CEO Mike Kelly giving
Project 120 the green light for that project and other potential changes to the
core of Jackson Park. Community voices
raised in response to JPW’s information put a brake on those plans; former
President Obama’s announcement in summer of 2016 that he had chosen Jackson
Park for the site of his Presidential Library (now Center) sidelined them
indefinitely. (Click here for more on
Project 120 and its proposals.)
As we enter year five, issues related to plans for the Obama
Presidential Center and for its sister project, the merged/expanded golf course,
are now front and center.
Looking ahead: what’s next for the OPC?
The Obama Presidential Center is currently on hold. The
Obama Foundation cannot cut a tree or bring in a bulldozer. No roads can be closed or reconfigured. No construction can begin. What will it take to move OPC plans ahead?
and when? (Click here for
JPW’s coverage of the OPC.)
What? No work can begin on the planned OPC until
the completion of the federal reviews.
Even then, only if the completed reviews sign off on the project plans
as they now stand, can the project move ahead without revisions.
How likely is it that the federal reviews will green-light
the OPC plans as they currently stand?
This is quite unclear, especially given that the draft Assessment of
Effects report, released in late July, determined that the plans would have significant
adverse impacts on Jackson Park and the fact that additional information on the
potential impacts has been requested. Stay tuned as this unfolds.
When? Mayor Lori Lightfoot indicated in a recent
meeting that the
City wants to move the process ahead.
However, beyond the still unfinished Section 106 review, there are other
mandated federal reviews to follow, including the NEPA environmental impact
review, the Environmental Impact Statement that a project of this magnitude
should require, and the 4(f) review of the planned road changes. These additional reviews will take time.
Additionally, the Protect Our Parks lawsuit appeal is still
alive and, given the significant delays noted above, may well be concluded in
time to have an impact. An eloquent recent
op-ed in Crain’s
by the lawyers managing the appeal, Richard Epstein and Michael Rachlis,
spelled out the rationale behind the appeal.
Epstein’s description of the case in an earlier interview in the Hyde
Park Herald ago gives another overview of the key elements of the
Discussion of the OPC and its siting in Jackson Park was recently enlivened by public
remarks by Lee Bey, a noted African-American author, former Sun-Times architecture critic, and
recent Vice-President of DuSable Museum.
In a November 26 appearance at the Silver Room on 53rd street,
Bey criticized the design saying “I think that that tower is foolishness…. It’s
clad in limestone or granite; it’s shoved in this park.” In comments that drew applause, Bey asserted
that a location in Washington Park near the Garfield Green Line Station would
be superior to the proposed Jackson Park location, and said that the OPC “is
being oversold as a [economic[ catalyst.”
Looking ahead: what’s next for the golf course?
The golf course merger/expansion project, too, is on hold.
As recently reported, the SmithGroup’s engineering work on
the design of the merged/expanded golf course has been put on hold by the Park
District – back in February, it has become known. Instead, SmithGroup now has a separate contract
with the Park District to assess projected impacts to Park District property
along the Chicago lakefront resulting from rising lake levels and the
increasing number of extreme storms sparked by climate change and to develop a
prioritized action plan, including potential sources of funding for work that
will be required. While the golf course project has not been cancelled, it is
definitely now on the backburner.
About those lake levels
The news: Lake levels in 2019 have equaled the record
high levels of 1986; they are predicted to continue to rise; and it is unclear
whether the agencies in charge of protecting Chicago’s lakefront have the
resources to do the job.
High water levels are getting serious attention all around
the Great Lakes region. It was the topic
meeting convened by Congressman Bobby Rush in Bronzeville on Monday,
December 2, featuring representatives of the US Army Corps of Engineers, the
Park District, and CDOT. The Army Corps
predicted that Lake Michigan levels will be higher next year than this year,
but declined to make any longer-term forecasts and dodged discussion of climate
change. We note that Donald Trump has forbidden the military, of which the Army
Corps is a part, from discussing climate change or using climate change
information in its analysis or planning.
Corps personnel indicated a particular concern about the
impact of storms and high waves combined with the high water levels on
shoreline conditions and erosion. Damage
done on November 11 this year along S. Lake Shore Drive between 48th
and 51st was cited as an example.
In response to questions, the Corps also
identified some key limits on its work. For
one, the Army Corps is not authorized to assist private property owners.
Further, Congressional action is required before the Corps can undertake any
long-term protective measures to assist local governments, and local governmental
units must exhaust their own funding sources before the Corps can step in.
The Army Corps, Park District, and CDOT asserted that all
three entities are working together to assess the situation and plan next
steps. As mentioned above in the golf course project section, the Park District
has commissioned SmithGroup to develop a full assessment and a prioritized
action plan. Given that continually
rising lake levels will affect Jackson Park beaches, our golf courses, the
Jackson Park lagoons (which rise in tandem with the lake), S. Lake Shore Drive,
and potentially even the plans for the OPC, we will track developments with
interest and will share what we learn.
THANK YOU FOR YOUR DONATIONS!
Thanks to all who offer
financial support. We welcome your
contributions. You can contribute in
- 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.
As always, we thank
Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid
Co-presidents, Jackson Park Watch