Jackson Park Watch Update – April 10, 2020

Greetings, all!

We hope you are all safe and well in this unsettling time.  

While the personal and public threat and demands of the coronavirus pandemic are rightly everyone’s primary focus now, there are ongoing actions relating to the OPC proposals for Jackson Park that should not be ignored.  We provide here updates on some recent developments.

First, it is worth mulling over the impact of the pandemic, immediately and for the future, on the proposals for the Park.  A recent article in Crain’s entitled “Can big development plans survive the virus?” addressed the impact of the virus on commercial development plans, such as the 78 and Lincoln Yards.  While the real estate developers remain predictably optimistic at the moment, economic and business analysts conclude that the duration of the downturn is not yet known and the trajectory for overall economic recovery cannot yet be predicted.  In this era of uncertainty and competing demands for resources, projects that are dependent on private donations — such the Obama Presidential Center (OPC) or the golf course merger — are particularly vulnerable.  Likewise, both projects require commitments of public funds that may now have to reevaluated.

Against that backdrop, here is what’s happened in the past month.

Hearing Scheduled for POP Lawsuit

On March 19 the legal team for Protect Our Parks filed its final brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, arguing that the City and Park District violated their fiduciary duties as public trustees by approving the construction of the OPC in Jackson Park as they did.  They argued additionally that the District Court was mistaken in its refusal to take into consideration the determination of the OPC’s adverse effect on the Park that was first documented in the July 2019 Assessment of Effects (AOE) report as part of the federal Section 106 review of the project. 

The Appeals Court granted POP’s request for an oral argument, as reported in the Hyde Park Herald.   The hearing is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. on May 21 at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse.  Each side will have 20 minutes to present its case.   At present, it is expected that the hearing will be a regular, in-person, open presentation before a panel of three judges (who will not be known in advance).  It remains to be seen whether public health concerns will cause delay or require a shift to remote, video presentations.

A Side Step in the Section 106 Review

As noted in our last Update, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) issued a “final” AOE in mid-January, giving consulting parties until mid-February to submit further comments.  In those further comments, JPW and numerous other consulting parties raised significant concerns about omissions and inconsistencies in the report’s findings, including those relating to other historic properties in the area.  They also raised strong objections to the report’s continued insistence that the proposal for the OPC itself was beyond the FHWA’s review authority. 

On March 17, as had been requested, the FHWA submitted a detailed report to the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) on the FHWA’s responses to the objection letters it had received.  The FHWA report sent to the ACHP first responds in detail to the specific concerns raised by the ACHP.  It then includes the more than 30 statements by consulting parties and individuals and a table of the FHWA’s response to each objection.  Basically, the FHWA issued a uniform refusal to consider the many issues raised, summarily dismissing them all.

The FHWA requested an advisory ruling by the ACHP on one particular question, raised by The Cultural Landscape Foundation, as to whether the Jackson Park Terrace Historic District (the residential complex that lies directly across Stony Island Avenue from the proposed OPC site) would be adversely affected by the OPC.  JPW and other groups submitted statements to ACHP in support of the TCLF challenge.  At the same time, importantly, one consulting party asked for the regulatory basis for the FHWA’s refusal to respond to the voluminous and thoughtful additional comments and questions.

On April 1, the ACHP responded to the FHWA and agreed with its finding of “no adverse effect” by the OPC on the Jackson Park Terrace Historic District.  However, the ACHP also stated that it would be appropriate for the FHWA to acknowledge and facilitate further consultation on the many other questions raised about other historic properties and to clarify whether those concerns may be addressed during the upcoming resolution process of the Section 106 review or better addressed during the NEPA review.  This ACHP response has not yet been posted on the City’s website as of today. 

The next step in the Section 106 review will be for the FHWA to set a schedule and outline a process to consult “with consulting parties to develop and evaluate alternatives or modifications to the undertaking that could avoid, minimize, or mitigate adverse effects on the historic properties.”   When and how that will or can be done in the midst of the pandemic restrictions is unknown.  Whether the FHWA will show any willingness to engage in substantive dialogue and creative dispute resolution is also unknown.

JPW Evolves

As the federal review process has evolved, so has JPW.  This month, Margaret, co-founder and co-president of JPW, has relocated to Ann Arbor MI to be closer to her family, a long-anticipated move.  Given the nature of the foreseeable work and ready access via the internet and phone, she will continue to participate fully in the Section 106 review and the other federal reviews to follow.  To accommodate the new geographic reality, Margaret will assume the position of PW vice-president.  Brenda will continue as JPW’s president and on-the-ground presence, focusing not only on the federal reviews of the OPC and associated road changes, but also on closely related issues such as the proposed expansion and merger of the Jackson Park and South Shore golf courses and the battle to save the Nature Sanctuary at the South Shore Cultural Center.  It goes without saying (but we will) that JPW will continue to be an active participant in the debate on the future of Jackson Park.


Thanks to all who offer 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, 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 you.

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid
Jackson Park Watch

Comments are closed.