JACKSON PARK WATCH UPDATE – September 16, 2023

Greetings, All:   

Picking up where we left off six months ago, let’s review what has changed regarding Jackson Park and other mid-South Side public parks.  There have been positive steps as well as continuing inertia.  What has not changed is the need for continuing vigilance and engagement.

Encouraging New Leadership in City Government

Desmon Yancy, new 5th Ward Alderman, has stated repeatedly that his focus and support is for initiatives that reflect the wishes of and serve the needs of local community members, not top-down projects that benefit special interests.  In this regard he has expressed skepticism about the Tiger Woods-designed golf course proposed for Jackson Park and South Shore Cultural Center and about the City’s plan for renovating Promontory Point with concrete steps rather than preserving and repairing the current limestone revetment.  We hope he will provide new leadership on these and other park projects.

Encouraging New Leadership in Jackson Park Advisory Council

Transitions take time and JPAC is still getting organized under its new leadership.  A central focus is enabling presentation and discussion of differing points of view about the management and future directions of Jackson Park in order to reach a shared vision.  Representing this effort particularly are two newly formed committees – Obama Presidential Center and Golf Courses; each is just beginning to consider the many issues affecting Jackson Park’s role as a public park serving primarily South Siders and other Chicago residents. 

JPAC meetings, held each month on the second Monday, are open to all, as is participation in the committees.  If you are not already a member, come join the conversation.  https://www.jacksonparkadvisorycouncil.org/membership/

A Bump in the Fairway for the Tiger Woods Golf Course

In a report notable for its lack of probing follow-up, Crain’s Chicago Business reported last week on an interview with Valerie Jarrett, CEO of the Obama Foundation, in which she indicated that the Foundation is no longer an advocate for the Tiger Woods golf course project. 

Since Crain’s report is available only to paid subscribers, we refer you to a follow-up analysis by BlockClubChicago for a clearer examination of this announcement.  Regrettably, neither article included any informative comment from the Chicago Park District or the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance.  It is the 2016 agreement between those two parties, an agreement in effect until 2026, that is the basis for the golf courses project.  So, while we welcome the Obama Foundation’s reversal, we do not think the issue is settled yet. 

We hope the chatter set off by Jarrett’s comment will prompt the Park District to come clean with information about the status of the project and to start developing, with full community engagement, a Plan B – one that is financially feasible and environmentally sensitive – to refresh and maintain the golf courses for local players, young, old and in-between. 

Funding for OPC Still Incomplete

Valerie Jarrett’s interview with Crain’s was surely intended in part as outreach to the Chicago corporate community as the Obama Foundation is actively and urgently soliciting donations to enable the completion of the Obama Presidential Center in 2025, on its announced schedule, and to support its future operations.   

As was reported last month in the Sun-Times and in the Tribune,  the Obama Foundation had its best fundraising year ever in 2022 ($311 million), but to meet the goal set in 2021, it still needs to raise another $1 billion in the next three years. Given that many of the donations received to date have been restricted to programmatic initiatives already underway, and given that the Foundation’s annual staffing and other operating expenses are already sizable, it is unclear if the full $700 million needed to complete the actual construction of OPC is already in hand.  And beyond those immediate construction costs, at least $1 billion is needed for an endowment sufficient to sustain the facility and the programs into the future.  

POP Lawsuit to Get Day in Court  

Another lingering shadow over the OPC is the lawsuit filed by Protect Our Parks and other plaintiffs challenging the propriety of transferring 19.3 acres of Jackson Park to the Obama Foundation for the construction of the OPC.  The POP suit asserts that the reviews of 2018-21 that assessed the environmental impact of the federally-funded work designed to accommodate the siting of the OPC were improperly conducted and the ensuing determination was flawed. 

The POP suit further claims that various state law prohibitions were violated, including but not limited to: improper delegation of legislative authority to a private party; improper transfer of public trust property; and failure to allow the plaintiffs the right to bring action for violation of the Master Agreement due to the Foundation’s failure to have adequate funding for the construction of the OPC campus and to establish an adequate endowment, both of which were conditions for the City of Chicago’s transfer of property to the Foundation.  

After more than two years of legal maneuvering and foot-dragging delays, the POP lawsuit is finally scheduled for a hearing on October 24 at 9:30 a.m. in Courtroom 2721 before the US Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, located in the Dirksen Federal Building.

 “Improvements” on and over the Midway Plaisance

The siting of the OPC in Jackson Park has had an unfortunate spillover effect on the Midway Plaisance.  To fulfill its obligations to the National Park Service related to federal funding for Jackson Park in the 1980s, the City has designated the eastern tip of the Midway – the segment east of the railway embankment – to be “replacement parkland” for a small portion of the park space lost to the OPC.  The City’s planned “improvements” would eradicate a natural wetland and erect an expansive children’s playground on the site encircled by heavy vehicular and train traffic.  The Midway Plaisance Advisory Council has opposed the City’s plan from the get-go on grounds of safety, equity, and environmental impact.  It is promoting an alternative plan that would retain and enhance the wetland feature for its environmental and educational values and that would locate the proposed playground elsewhere in a park-poor area of Woodlawn that would be safer and more accessible for children and their families.   

While the future configuration of the eastern tip remains muddy, the planned reconstruction of the 59th / 60th Street Metra Station that looms over the Midway is moving forward.  On September 18th, at 1:00 p.m., there will be a final virtual meeting to define the MOA concluding reviews of the impact of the project on area historical and environmental resources. (The link for the zoom session is https://rkk-it.zoom.us/j/86393653437 .)  The reviews are required because part of the funding for the project comes from the Federal Transit Authority.  The original timetable set completion of the project for 2025, coinciding with the planned opening of the OPC.  

Progress and Opposition for Promontory Point

In March the Chicago City Council unanimously approved an ordinance designating Promontory Point as a Chicago Landmark.  The ordinance made special note of the importance of the Point’s limestone step-stone revetment as a unique feature of the site, to be preserved and protected.  

Despite that formal affirmation for preservation of the Point in its current form, the Chicago Department of Transportation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers continue to state on their websites for the Chicago Shoreline Protection Project that the existing limestone revetement has failed completely and must be entirely replaced with new structures of concrete. 

In the face of such blatant resistance to incorporating preservation as a rationale and goal for the project, the Promontory Point Conservancy has engaged a national marine engineering firm – McLaren Engineering Group – to assess the Point’s structure and examine the feasibility of repairing the limestone revetment to meet the contemporary storm damage protection standards required for the shoreline erosion project. 

McLaren will issue a full report later in the fall, but at the end of July it shared its preliminary findings: “[T]he limestone revetment currently functions as the original design intended, is not in danger of collapse, and provides adequate shore protection . . . with maintenance and repairs, the service life of the structure can be significantly extended, obviating the need for major demolition and replacement.” 

It couldn’t be clearer that preservation is possible and compatible with the mandate for shoreline protection.  The challenge now is to persuade the Army Corps and the City that this is a both/and opportunity, not an either/or dilemma.

Full information on the current initiative to Save the Point can be found at https://www.promontorypoint.org/



Thanks to all who have supported us financially.  As always, we welcome your contributions.  If you have any questions about contributing, please contact us at jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com 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.

As always, we thank you.

Brenda Nelms and Jack Spicer
Co-presidents, Jackson Park Watch

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