Happy New Year to All:
2023 promises to be even busier for our South Side parks than last year. Here are some current events for your attention.
Vote for parks in the aldermanic and mayoral elections
There is now a once-every-four-year opportunity to highlight and promote park issues with our elected officials. We encourage you to learn about the candidates and to ask them about their positions on specific park issues.
We attended the League of Women Voters Forum for 5th Ward Aldermanic Candidates on January 8at Montgomery Place and distributed to all twelve aspirants an information sheet on the proposal for the Tiger Woods golf course. (The latest version of that handout is appended at the end of this Update.) We also attended the 5th Ward Aldermanic Candidates’ Justice Forum on January 15 at Hyde Park Union Church.
Between these two forums, candidates were directly asked for a yes or no response to three important park questions: Do they support preservation of Promontory Point, including the limestone revetment? Do they support the ballot referendum initiative to have the City and Park District stop cutting trees in Jackson Park and preserve trees in South Shore Cultural Center Park? Do they oppose using the eastern tip of Midway Plaisance as a UPARR replacement site for recreational space lost in Jackson Park to the OPC, rather than finding sites in Woodlawn or South Shore? All 12 candidates responded “yes” about the Point at the first forum. Two candidates were absent from the Justice Forum (Gray and Palmer), but all ten present responded “yes” to both the tree-cutting and Midway questions.
This is wonderfully encouraging news, but we must recognize that those were easy, feel-good responses, particularly reflecting the sentiment of the audiences. However, as always, details and nuances are important (see below regarding the Point) and the candidates’ levels of understanding of these park issues vary greatly. So continued engagement with the candidates on these issues by many voters is important in the weeks ahead.
There will be another 5th Ward Candidate Forum next Sunday, this one sponsored by
the Obama CBA Coalition and Not Me We.
Sunday, January 22, 2:00 – 5:00 pm
South Side United Methodist Church
7350 Jeffrey Boulevard
The first half of the forum will be devoted to questions relating specifically to affordable housing and development/displacement issues. The second half will cover other ward issues, including parks and the golf course (which of course relate to the first discussion topic also). The forum will be a panel format, with questions submitted in advance and asked by a moderator, not from the floor. If you have questions, reach out to 312-880-7265.
In the mayoral race, it is not clear yet who might be a champion of public parks. We encourage you to pose questions and share information as you can. There is one upcoming local opportunity to talk directly with a mayoral candidate: Hyde Parkers Brigid Maniates and Matthew Isoda are hosting a fundraiser for Brandon Johnson on Sunday, January 29, 6:30-8:30 p.m. at 5450 S. East View Park, Apt. 3. All are welcome, with or without donations, but if you do plan to attend, please send a note to email@example.com.
Promontory Point — a step forward and a pause for NEPA review
The Commission on Chicago Landmarks voted on Thursday to approve preliminary landmark status for Promontory Point, a significant first step toward more protection for preserving the Point and particularly its distinctive limestone revetments. As reported by both BlockClubChicago and the Herald, the vote was unanimous, with several of the commissioners mentioning their own personal experiences with the Point. Final approval of Landmark status rests with the City Council and it is hoped that could be secured in April, though no firm schedule is set.
While the hearing was mostly a chorus of praise for the Point, it also aired the continuing failures to communicate and lingering distrusts between the Promontory Point Conservancy and other supporters of Point preservation and the multiple government agencies — Park District, CDOT, and Army Corps – that have responsibility for the site. Alderman Hairston, who has been a strong supporter of Point preservation efforts throughout her tenure, was particularly forceful in reminding the City (in this case CDOT) and the Park District of their failures to deal openly and in good faith with her and the community over the past two decades. She warned them to heed now the community’s wishes for true preservation and repair. All commissioners present voiced support for preservation of the limestone revetment,
As the Herald report makes clear, however, the devil is in the details and semantics is important whether it be the meaning of “locally preferred plan” or the nuances of the levels of preservation – repair, restore, or rehabilitate – that might be applied to the Point. (For clarification of those terms, see here.) CPD and CDOT officials continue to talk about “rehabilitation,” which leaves open a huge loophole for the possibility of installation of their now standard concrete platforms but with just a few limestone blocks positioned as decoration. This would not be allowed under an honest reading of the Chicago Landmark guidelines or the Secretary of the Interior Standards for Preservation, both of which now apply. Point lovers should continue to be alert and vocal.
The final steps to becoming a Chicago Landmark are not the only challenges remaining for the Point. Most immediate is the renewed planning by the US Army Corps of Engineers to restore and protect the entire Chicago shoreline. A necessary step in this planning is an Environmental Assessment of the area, from Evanston to Indiana, under the terms of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to identify the valuable shoreline resources that would be adversely impacted by construction so that customized plans for those segments can be developed. The assessment considers not only environmental resources but also cultural, historic and social resources.
As a first step the Army Corps is asking for input from formal stakeholders and also individuals about aspects of the shoreline that need special attention and care. The original deadline for comments (January 17) is being extended because of complaints by the Promontory Point Conservancy (and probably others) that the notice was not distributed properly or widely. The new deadline has not been announced, but you should have another week at least to gather your thoughts about areas the need special treatment along the local shoreline – e.g., the Point, the South Shore Nature Sanctuary – and elsewhere over the 26 miles. Submit your comments and concerns to ChicagoShoreline@usace.army.mil.
Jackson Park Advisory Council starts the year with new leadership
Our final Update in 2022 was focused on the run-off election for the presidency of JPAC. As many of you already know by now, Michael Scott was selected in a close vote. Both he and his opponent have expressed their hopes for a united, effective organization.
The first JPAC meeting of 2023 will be held on January 30, at the Washington Park Refectory (because the Jackson Park Fieldhouse is inaccessible), from 6 to 8 p.m. The meeting will be structured as a workshop with small-group discussions about how JPAC should operate going forward. A good time to get re-involved or involved for the first time.
THANK YOU FOR YOUR DONATIONS!
Thanks to all who have supported us financially. As always, we will welcome your contributions. If you have any questions about contributing, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will get back to you.
You can contribute in three ways:
- You can contribute via checks made out to Jackson Park Watch sent directly to Jackson Park Watch, P.O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615.
- You can contribute via PayPal here. (If you encounter difficulties with PayPal, please let us know.)
- You can contribute via checks from donor-directed funds sent to our fiscal sponsor Friends of the Parks at FOTP, 67 E. Madison St., Suite 1817, Chicago IL 60602, ATTN Kevin Winters. Such checks should be made out to FOTP with a note stating they are intended for Jackson Park Watch.
The “Tiger Woods PGA Golf Course” in the 5th Ward
What is the proposal?
- An 18-hole golf course to be created by merging two well-used existing courses in Jackson Park (18 holes) and South Shore Cultural Center (9 holes).
- Often misleadingly described as a “renovation,” it is a total demolition of both current courses as well as of many adjacent non-golf park features.
- A top-down initiative, drawn up behind closed doors with no organic public support.
- The University of Chicago’s 2014 confidential proposal to locate the Obama President Library in Jackson Park included a plan for a merged and expanded golf course.
- The concept was then nurtured in private conversations involving University representatives, now-ousted Park District CEO Michael Kelly, and golf consultant Mark Rolfing and on occasion Obama Foundation representatives.
- The project was announced in late 2016 by Mayor Emanuel and (as was later revealed by the mayor’s private emails) deliberately misrepresented as a community-driven initiative.
- It was presented in the Park District’s South Lakefront Framework Plan discussions (2017-18), along with the OPC, as a done deal, not subject to substantive review.
How would the proposed course impact South Side communities?
Environmental and Other Inequities
- Diminish access of underserved South Side communities to lakefront park space and amenities, even as Chicago is trying to overcome its long history of inequity in public parks. This move would be an embarrassing setback.
- Disadvantage community golfers with increased fees and decreased course access.
- Remove some 2,100 mature and heritage trees in Jackson Park and SSCC, exacerbating public health problems, such as asthma and heat trauma, in a time of increasing urban air pollution and rising temperatures
- Threaten the safety of lake water for both recreation and consumption with toxic chemicals used for golf course maintenance
- Diminish the South Side lakefront as a safe and essential stopover for thousands of migrating birds and for other wildlife
- Reduce park space available for non-golf activities (soccer, baseball, softball, basketball, tennis, rodeos, beach play, picnicking, people walking and dog walking)
- Reduce access for community golfers to the repurposed golf course
- Eradicate the major portion of the South Shore Nature Sanctuary at SSCC, a haven of tranquility for humans and wildlife
- Limit public access to the lakefront and completely exclude access to major portions of Jackson Park and SSCC for weeks at a time during prime season for outdoor recreation in order to stage for-profit golf tournaments
Can Chicago afford to build this course? No!
Economic Costs – High
- 2023 guesstimate: $150 million (total course construction and related infrastructure costs, with allowance for effects of pandemic and inflation)
- Original marketing of the proposal indicated the course “renovation” would be largely funded with $25 million in private donations (ignoring the need for $58 million in publicly funded infrastructure). A revised estimate in 2019 more than doubled the course cost (to $79.3 million), still ignoring the infrastructure cost and with no evidence of private donations to pay for the course reconfiguration (as opposed to support for youth programs).
Economic Benefits — Low
- A Park District internal report commissioned in 2019 treats the project primarily as a real estate development and revenue generator for the City and Park District, not as a plan to improve parks for community users.
- Estimate of new tax revenue attributable to the project over the first 15 years: an annual average of $160,000 for the County and $520,000\ for the City. Even those modest projections may be too high, as they unrealistically assume that there will be a major tournament every other year, whereas one every five years would be more likely. (And even that frequency is not assured; there may never be a PGA tournament here.)
- Increased spending and taxable revenues would be in the lodging and food-and-beverage sectors, mostly concentrated downtown. There is no projection that there would be major direct spending in South Side communities around the parks.
THERE IS A WIN-WIN ALTERNATIVE:
Improve and invest in the existing golf courses and surrounding parks!
- Improve the existing two golf courses to benefit both golfers and other park users and the surrounding communities
- Focus on serving the local golfing community (including youth) rather than a wished-for small clientele of affluent golfers from elsewhere
- Continue and expand current youth golf programs, which are in no way dependent on the TGR design
- Implement environmentally sensitive restoration, preserving existing trees and protecting the South Shore Nature Sanctuary, and establish a program of routine maintenance to forestall a return to the past pattern of neglect and decay
- Set a realistic timetable for the full project and a realistic, affordable budget
- Seek corporate and individual philanthropic support for both construction and programming, which will likely be more forthcoming with a reality-based, transparent plan for community golf
Prepared by Jackson Park Watch, January 15, 2023 (http://jacksonparkwatch.org/)