Jackson Park Watch SPECIAL ISSUE – May 13, 2018

Greetings, all:

UPDATE: The Current Situation
The push to get Plan Commission approval on May 17 of all of the proposals related to the Obama President Center is now in full gear. Expect a media blitz in the coming week, and – on the day of the meeting – a pep rally and demonstration in and around City Hall orchestrated by the Obama Foundation.

JPW has been preparing for the May 17 hearing:

  • We delivered the JPW-commissioned independent traffic study – CDOT’s Transportation Plan for the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park: A Review and Alternative – to Plan Commission members and to Obama Foundation officials and Alderman Leslie Hairston on Thursday, May 10. Along with the traffic study, which includes both a critique of the CDOT plan and an alternative road configuration for Jackson Park, we provided a critical analysis of CDOT’s claim to be in compliance with the Chicago Lakefront Protection Ordinance. We also submitted a detailed critique of the Obama Foundation applications for approvals for rezoning and Lakefront Protection Ordinance compliance, identifying missing information and other inadequacies in both. The materials are posted on our web site home page at www.jacksonparkwatch.org. Please take a look.
  • We asked the Plan Commission to reject the CDOT application and to delay action on the Obama Foundation applications pending additional information and the resolution of key public policy questions.

Some of the critical issues relating to OPC were spotlighted by Lynn Sweet of the Sun-Times in two recent articles on replacement parkland and the Cornell Drive road closure , which focused on our traffic study. We highly recommend both articles. Crain’s Chicago Business also provided excellent coverage of the JPW traffic study and appended on-line the study and the full JPW statement to the Plan Commission, as did the on-line Hyde Park Herald.


On Thursday, May 17, in a hearing dedicated solely to requests related to the Obama Presidential Center, the Chicago Plan Commission will consider three key applications:

  • The Chicago Department of Transportation application for approval to close Cornell Drive and make other major road changes.
  • Two separate Obama Foundation applications for approval of the construction of the Obama Presidential Center are on the agenda.  One application argues that it satisfies the Lakefront Protection Ordinance; the other asks for rezoning of the site.


  1. BE THERE!

The Plan Commission meeting will start at 10 a.m., Thursday, May 17, in the City Council Chambers in City Hall (121 N. LaSalle Street between Randolph and Washington, 2nd floor).  Doors to the Council Chambers open at 9 a.m. Seats in the Gallery will likely fill up fast. The Obama Foundation is staging a pep rally complete with tee-shirts, music and free breakfast starting at 5 a.m. just outside City Hall. It also plans to fill the lobby outside the Council Chambers to overflowing at 9 a.m., so make your plans accordingly. You may wish to be there early with a prepared statement you can offer up to the many reporters that are sure to be there (see below).


Members of the public and representatives of organizations like JPW, Friends of the Parks, etc. are allowed only three minutes each to state their concerns or approval.  To speak, you will need to sign up with staff at the entrance to the Chambers.

  • See attached a copy of the sign-up form that you will be handed at the entrance.
  • The agenda item number will be available at the meeting.
  • Do not fill in “Organization” unless you are the designated spokesperson for your group; otherwise, leave that blank or put “self.”
  • You will need to indicate if you support or oppose the proposal, but you can add notes such as “Oppose in current form,” or “Oppose — more information needed.”
  • We advise preparing your 3-minute statement ahead of time. Bring extra copies with you on Thursday so that you can submit a copy for the public record .
  • It is unknown whether there will be a single comment period or separate comments for each application.
  • Seek out opportunities to offer your comments to interested reporters both orally and in writing.       Optional: Include your name and phone number on the statement for possible follow-up.
  • The Chicago Plan Commission is run by the City’s Department of Planning and Development (DPD).   Department staff will present each of the applications and explain why each  should be approved. There will be PowerPoint or video  presentations.  We expect Alderman Hairston to speak in support.  Public comments will follow these presentations.
  • Given the number, complexity and high-profile of the applications under review, the hearing will likely go on for a long time – perhaps until 5 p.m. or later.       Be prepared; be flexible.
  • Submit your comments via email by 12 noon on May 16 to Patrick Murphey, DPD Assistant Commissioner (Patrick.Murphey@cityofchicago.org ). Explain that you cannot attend the May 17 hearing and ask him if he would please distribute them to the Plan Commission members. Also ask him to let you know this is done and thank him very much.
  • Write letters to the editors (see www.jacksonparkwatch.org, “Take Action” page for email addresses) stating your position(s).  Some key issues are:
  • the need to seriously consider the option of NOT closing Cornell Drive;
  • the need for full replacement of lost public parkland;
  • the importance of the Plan Commission giving at most only conditional approval to any of the applications, subject to resolution of the federal review process now  on-going;
  • the need for resolution of key underlying procedural questions about the allocation and control of public land.


We are pleased that the JPW-commissioned traffic study prepared by raSmith, CDOT’s Transportation Plan for the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park: A Review and Alternative, was released in advance of the Plan Commission hearing.   Beyond its influence in the immediate discussions, it provides important information that will become part of the on-going federal review. It also has consumed most of our financial resources – and appropriately so, as our generous donors have intended us to spend their funds, not conserve them for some distant purpose. Nonetheless, at this point, additional funds would be welcome. Please send checks to Jackson Park Watch, P.O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615. We thank you.

Questions?  e-mail JPW at jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com .

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

Jackson Park Watch Update – April 16, 2018

Greetings all!

As we keep noting, a lot is happening! Here is a recent rundown:

The South Lakefront Frame Plan update – where does that stand and why does it matter?

  • The SLFP was “accepted” by the Park District Board at its 4/11 meeting.
  • As JPW underscored at the meeting – and CEO Mike Kelly agreed – it is a plan, nothing more. Although Blair Kamin’s 4/15 Tribune article painted a lovely picture of possible new future water features for Jackson Park, it also noted that the SLFP included “no price tags or funding sources” for any of the projects outlined in the plan. Note that none of the projects included in the SLFP update is dependent on any others. For example, constructing the OPC does not mean any other project – not even the proposed road changes – will necessarily move forward.
  • The Board’s acceptance of the SLFP will likely be seized on by those raising funds for the golf course and the OPC, even though the development of the plans for those projects preceded and was unrelated to the SLFP initiative.

That golf course again

A recent piece in the Tribune highlighted the Tiger Woods/President Obama connection in relationship to the golf course expansion/merger plan, old news to those who have been following the story. In fact, the project does not appear to be moving forward at present, and no actual golf course plans have been submitted to the Plan Commission for review. At the 4/11 Park District Board meeting Mike Kelly noted that “a ton of money” still had to be raised for the construction of the course, and also repeated his promise that the golf course won’t be built if the community doesn’t want it.

Obama Presidential Center promotions

The Obama Foundation has recently launched both a virtual postcard campaign and an online letter writing campaign, asking people to express general support for the Obama Presidential Center. JPW does not know of anyone who actually opposes the OPC. Rather, the devil is in the details, with so many questions and concerns related to the OPC and road plans still outstanding.

Important news: OPC to move forward even if Cornell Drive stays open

The Obama Foundation has recently invited numerous groups for one-on-one meetings, and JPW was among those invited. At our 4/5 meeting with VP for Civic Engagement Mike Strautmanis and Director of Planning and Construction Roark Frankel among others, the talk turned to Cornell Drive. Frankel repeated what we had heard long ago from Strautmanis: the OPC will be built in Jackson Park even if Cornell Drive stays open.

Replacement parkland controversy likely lies ahead

Another important note from the JPW meeting with the Obama Foundation: The Obama Foundation staff asserted that replacement parkland will be needed only for the acreage directly under the footprints of the OPC buildings, and that the rest of the OPC site will continue to be counted as public parkland. JPW and others find it hard to understand how land under a long-term lease to a private entity (the Obama Foundation) and controlled by it for purposes including construction, maintenance, security, and programming can be considered public parkland. JPW also believes that the governing principle should be that there can be no net loss of actual public parkland. Given the initial commitment by the City, albeit vaguely worded, to replace all of the public parkland used for the OPC, this is likely to shape up as another key point of disagreement.

Finally – we know what date to save – May 17!

The Obama Foundation’s virtual postcard promotion specifies that its applications to the Chicago Plan Commission – one under the Lakefront Protection Ordinance and one for rezoning – will be reviewed at the May 17 Plan Commission meeting. The CDOT roads application, also under the Lakefront Protection Ordinance, will be heard that day as well. Now we know we can plan for that date. Look for more details in early May about how the Plan Commission works and how you will be able to participate.

Donations always welcome

Thanks to all who have contributed to our work. Our study of the CDOT traffic proposal is moving along well. We have secured the services of a traffic engineer professional who is reviewing the Sam Schwartz traffic study underlying the CDOT proposal, and we anticipate having a report to share prior to May 17. We continue to benefit from expert legal assistance. It is your support that has made all this possible. Please send your checks to Jackson Park Watch, P.O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615. If you have questions about our request for support, please feel free to contact us at jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com.

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


Jackson Park Watch Update – April 5, 2018

Greetings all!

Federal review of OPC confused and problematic

As JPW noted in a letter to local newspapers (which appeared in the Sun-Times and Herald), the March 29 Section 106 meeting offered little clarity and raised new issues:

To the Editor:

As eloquently noted by Openland’s CEO Jerry Adelmann at last Thursday’s Section 106 meeting, there are significant problems with the process the City’s Department of Planning and Development and Department of Transportation are following as they conduct the required federal review of the proposals for the Obama Presidential Center and the related road changes it requires.  Two problems stand out:  First, the City departments have omitted the necessary first step of including public participation in developing the statement of “purpose and need” that defines the project for review.  Second, they have instead drafted their own “purpose and need” statement without public input. Rather than taking the current configuration of the park as the starting point for assessing the impact of the proposed changes, their statement disingenuously presumes that all of the OPC construction and road work has been completed and that only the resulting traffic problems need to be addressed.  As with the South Lakefront Framework Plan, there is an ongoing attempt to put the cart before the horse.

Also of note at Thursday’s meeting was the new proposal to take the eastern portion of the Midway — land that the Obama Foundation previously hoped to use for a parking garage — for use as “replacement” land for the baseball diamonds that will be displaced as a result of the OPC siting in the park.  Ironically, this proposal could result in a net loss of park space unless the City fully meets its commitment to give the Park District new open green space equal to that taken for the OPC.   Further, this proposal disregards the fact that there is an existing Midway Plaisance Framework Plan, developed through a proper community process, that envisions other uses for this space. 

We hope that the haste with which the City and Obama Foundation are pursuing their objectives does not result in mistakes that will ultimately slow the entire project down. 

The meeting – inconveniently scheduled to coincide with school and religious holidays – was sparsely attended.  Public input on the specific focus of the meeting (the impact of the OPC and road changes on historic properties and landscapes) was further limited because the draft archeology and historic property inventory reports (some 1000 pages of documents) had been posted for review only ten days before the meeting date and the promised hard copies of the historic properties reports were first available at the meeting itself.  There were many questions and concerns about the timing and sequencing of overall federal review process along with questions about whether the archaeological review was adequate, how and why the “period of significance” was defined, whether the critique of road changes choose arbitrary cutoff dates, and more.

Voice your concerns! 

Despite the complexity of the federal review processes and questions as to whether they are being managed appropriately, public input continues to be crucial.  You can comment on the 3/29 Section 106 meeting itself (a webinar version of the hour-and-a half meeting is available via YouTube – no visual until minute 1:47) and on the details  of the Historic Properties Inventory and the Archaeological Properties Identification reports that were the specific topic of that meeting. The (very lengthy) reports are available online (scroll down to the March 19 entry under “Milestones”).

You can also comment on any other aspect of the federal reviews:  on the idea of having baseball diamonds on the Midway; on how the South Lakefront Framework Plan process “put the cart before the horse” in presuming the construction of the OPC and the golf course and the related roadwork; on continuing concerns about the OPC, the proposed road work, or the golf course proposal.

The comment period on the Section 106 draft reports closes April 19.  There is no deadline for comments about other aspects of the federal review processes.

Send your comments to the City’s Department of Planning and Development general e-mail address, dpd@cityofchicago.org , and be sure to label your e-mail “public input for the OPC federal reviews.”  You may want to cc your comments to:

Mayor Emanuel (rahm.emanuel@cityofchicago.org),

CDOT Commissioner Scheinfeld (Rebekah.Scheinfeld@cityofchicago.org ), or

Park District CEO Kelly (Michael.Kelly@chicagoparkdistrict.com ) .

Chicago Plan Commission hearing on OPC, road changes pushed back further

The agenda for the April 19 Chicago Plan Commission meeting has been published, and none of the Jackson Park-related applications are on the docket – not the CDOT application to execute the road closures and realignments, not the Obama Foundation applications (there are two) to construct the OPC; not even the Park District application to build a replacement track and field facility at the south end of the site originally designated for the Obama Presidential Library. We do not know the specific reasons for the delays, but suspect that the complexities of the processes, the ongoing pushback against many aspects of the proposals, and the sheer amount of detail involved continue to significantly slow the work.

We will continue to track this and to keep you posted.  The next Plan Commission meeting is May 17.  We urge you to note that date on your calendars and to make plans to be there if at all possible.  When the OPC and CDOT plans do finally come to the Plan Commission, it will be very important to have a major demonstration of questions and concerns.

Quote to note

In Crain’s Chicago Business on March 29, renowned preservationist and architect John Vinci was asked: What’s the worst part of being a Chicagoan?

Vinci’s response:  “The indifference of politicians to architectural significance. I’m furious over Jackson Park and the proposed Obama Presidential Center. People are just starting to realize that it’s being violated.”

Donations welcomed – and needed! 

THANKS to all who have recently donated.  Your trust and support motivates us and enables us to persist.  Our road initiative continues and we hope for an initial report soon.  Additionally, we continue to need funds to support the legal assistance that has been critical to our work. Please send your checks to Jackson Park Watch, P.O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615.  If you have questions about our request for support, please feel free to contact us at jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com.

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


Jackson Park Watch Update – March 25, 2018

Greetings all!

TAKING STOCK: the story of the Obama Presidential Center, road closures and realignments, and the related golf course merger/expansion project is complicated and ever-changing as it proceeds down multiple pathways simultaneously. Our attempt to cut through the confusion and summarize the current situation is below.

The Obama Presidential Center and the related road changes

The Plan Commission

  • The OPC application for a zoning change and the OPC and CDOT applications under the Lakefront Protection Ordinance, long expected to be heard by the Chicago Plan Commission on Thursday, April 19, may not be reviewed until May. We will keep you posted.
  • When the meeting does occur, it will start at 10 am and continue until all public comments have been taken.
  • Each speaker will be limited to 3 minutes, but everyone will be allowed to speak, so this could take many hours.
  • We urge everyone who has questions or concerns to be there if at all possible. We will provide more details about ways to participate as the date approaches.
  • Remember, Plan Commission approval will NOT mean the project can proceed. Approvals via the federal review process are needed before any work can start.

Federal review #1 – Section 106

  • A Section 106 review began December 1. Remember, this is a mandatory review of any project in a public park or place listed on or eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places that involves federal funding or requires federal approval: the proposed road changes trigger this review, which covers the OPC as well and focuses on historic buildings and sites.
  • The second Section 106 meeting has been set for Thursday, March 29, from 3:30 to 5:30 pm, in the auditorium of U Chicago’s Logan Center (915 E. 60th St.).
  • The meeting will consider the draft Historic Properties Inventory and Archeology Reports, and discuss next steps. The (very lengthy) reports are available online (scroll down to the March 19 entry under Milestones). The City’s Department of Planning and Development is taking public comments on the reports until April 19 via email to its general address – DPD@cityofchicago.org (be sure to include reference to Section 106 review of OPC in the subject line). The Archeology Report was summarized by Blair Kamin in the 3/25 Tribune.
  • The March 29 meeting is open to the public, and we urge interested people to attend. We note, however, that the timing is less than ideal for public input: CPS and many other schools are on break, the next day is Good Friday, Passover starts on Saturday, and Easter is on Sunday.

Federal review #2 – NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act)

  • A NEPA review of the proposals for the OPC and road changes is also required. It will focus on impacts on the environment broadly defined as including wildlife and habitat, air and water quality, noise, traffic, and socioeconomic factors.
  • Although it was reported at the December 1 Section 106 kickoff meeting that the NEPA review would be “starting soon,” that has not happened. We are hopeful that there will be word on that schedule at the March 29 meeting.

Federal review #3 – Section 4(f)

  • A Section 4(f) review is also triggered by the CDOT road proposals under the US Department of Transportation Act, which provides for consideration of the impact on parkland and historic sites during transportation project development.
  • Beyond a mention in the initial letter sent to Section 106 consulting parties, there is no indication to date that this will take place.
  • A 4(f) review is especially important because it requires substantive consideration of alternatives to proposed road projects.
  • JPW will continue to follow this issue closely.

Federal review #4 – UPARR (Urban Parks And Recreational Recovery Act)

  • Because improvements and programs in Jackson Park were funded by several grants under the UPARR program, recreational areas in the park cannot be converted to non-recreational use unless certain conditions are met and approval by the National Park Service is forthcoming.
  • One of the conditions is provision of appropriate alternate parkland.
  • Virtually no public information has been made available about this review to date.

South Lakefront Framework Plan

The Park District has continued to rush through its hastily developed South Lakefront Framework Plan (SLFP), which is now slated to be approved by the Park District Board at its April 11 meeting. Here are key points to keep in mind:

  • The Park District and others continue to assert that the placement of the OPC, the proposed road changes, and the golf course expansion/merger were needed to support the SLFP.
  • In fact the opposite is the case: the SLFP was initiated after all of those proposals were already developed and was premised on their being in the Park. No public discussion of the status of these key projects was entertained at any point during the SLFP development process.
  • While there are many elements in the new SLFP that many may like, there is as yet no funding for anything other than (potentially) the OPC and road changes and the relocation of the current track to accommodate the OPC.  Like prior park framework plans, it merely sets forth, without funding plans or timelines, possible projects to be developed over the next 10 years, and is subject to on-going change.
  • Of particular concern in this regard is the failure to provide a real plan and timeline for the much-needed replacement of the Jackson Park Fieldhouse, now 60 years old and in bad shape after years of under investment.

That golf course plan

  • Beyond the much-hyped revised design, proposals to actually move the project forward have not been submitted to the Plan Commission.
  • While a Section 106 and NEPA review would certainly be required for that project, as would a review under the City’s Lakefront Protection Ordinance, none has yet been initiated.
  • Funding for the golf course and/or the expensive related infrastructure has not been identified.

The broader context

This complicated story of multiple proposals, reviews and timelines for changes in Jackson Park is set against the background of the surrounding neighborhoods that will be impacted by the proposals. A recent Washington Post article provides a wide-angled view of the issues.

Donations welcomed – and needed!

THANKS to all who have recently donated. Your trust and support motivates us to persist – and that we will!

Beyond our new roads initiative, now well underway, we continue to need funds to support the legal assistance that has been critical to ensure that our work is focused effectively. Please send your checks to Jackson Park Watch, P.O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615. If you have questions about our request for support, please feel free to contact us at jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com.

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

Jackson Park Watch Update – March 18, 2018

Greetings all!

New JPW roads initiative underway

Jackson Park Watch has launched a new initiative, commissioning an expert analysis of CDOT’s plans to close Cornell Drive between 59th and 63rd streets in Jackson Park in order to accommodate the initial design for the Obama Presidential Center. The JPW initiative also includes exploration of an alternative that would allow the Obama Presidential Center to remain in Jackson Park.

Jackson Park Watch believes this initiative is necessary for several key reasons:

  • The CDOT-proposed road changes, most recently estimated to cost $175 million (although that is certainly not the final tab), put an undue and unnecessary burden on taxpayers, and the Obama Presidential Center could still be located in Jackson Park without all those expensive changes.
  • The CDOT-proposed road changes create problems of pedestrian and vehicular safety and congestion. For example, the recently revealed proposal to create a “road diet” on Cornell Drive between 57th and 59th Streets creates a bottleneck for drivers, a hazard for those trying to use the parking spots along that stretch, and safety problems for adults and children, especially at local schools. The proposal to route traffic between Lake Shore Drive and Stony Island along Hayes Drive creates a new congested and hazardous “S” curve that bisects the park.
  • The CDOT-proposed road changes make it difficult for local users to access the park for recreational uses. For example, the proposal to ban parking along Hayes Drive – now heavily used by people to access the adjacent playing fields, the 63rd Street Beach, the golf course, or Wooded Island – limits access to green and open space and does not include adequate new parking options. Indeed, the CDOT parking analysis, which projects the loss of 236 parking spaces overall, is focused on meeting the needs of visitors to the OPC and not those of other park users.
  • The CDOT-proposed road changes destroy key portions of the historic Olmsted design of Jackson Park.
  • There is no need to rush to decision. Despite the Plan Commission’s almost certain approval of the CDOT-proposed road changes in April, no work on any road change can begin until the federal reviews – now underway and set to last until at least December – are complete.
  • There are alternatives that would enable the Obama Presidential Center to exist in harmony with Jackson Park and its neighbors. One such example, the alternative that JPW’s traffic expert will explore, is the proposal to narrow Cornell Drive and “calm” its traffic, which was a recommendation in the 1999-2000 Jackson Park/South Shore Framework Plan and was touted most recently in the 2016 proposal put forward by the Park District and Project 120.

JPW’s roads initiative took shape when three things converged: City Hall announced the $175 million price tag to taxpayers; the traffic study behind CDOT’s plan was posted on the City’s web site; and after 20+ refusals, JPW was able to find a well-established traffic consultancy to undertake an evaluation. Stay tuned for the more news on this.

Meeting Report #1: A “community conversation” at last!

The March 7 symposium at the University of Chicago was the scene of the first and, to date, only genuine community conversation about the Obama Presidential Center and the myriad of related issues. It demonstrated that, as pointed out not long ago in the Tribune , the debate is more about race, class, and power than about Jackson Park, President Obama, or the OPC.

After an opening by symposium organizer and UC faculty member Tom Mitchell and presentations by the invited panelists – Naomi Davis of Blacks in Green, Charles Birnbaum of The Cultural Landscape Foundation, Jawanza Malone of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, and (in a statement read by Mitchell) Michael Sorkin of the Michael Sorkin Studio – the audience had its chance to voice opinions in a discussion moderated skillfully by Barbara Ransby, a UIC faculty member.

And opinions there were, cutting across race and class and neighborhood lines! Some challenged the right of others to ask questions or voice concerns. Some insisted on the importance of raising questions and getting answers in the interests of transparency. There was common agreement that the OPC should be on the South Side and that President Obama himself is not the issue. There was much disagreement about the impact of the OPC on the surrounding neighborhoods, with strong support for a community benefits agreement as essential to protect residents from displacement. Another recurring theme was the need to hold the University of Chicago accountable for the secrecy of its bid for the Obama Library (a bid never made public), which offered public park land and also, reportedly, the closure of Cornell Drive, but required nothing of the University itself.

Sadly, the Obama Foundation, the City, the Park District and the University had all refused invitations to participate on the panel. No follow-up is currently planned.

The symposium can be viewed in full on YouTube. (You may need to adjust the video to start at the very beginning of the discussion).

Meeting Report #2: South Lakefront Framework Plan Final Meetings

The final round of South Lakefront Framework Plan meetings this week presented the Park District’s close-to-final version of its aspirational, unfunded potential changes to the Park. As with prior versions, it presumes that the OPC will be sited as the Obama Foundation originally projected, that all of the OPC-related road changes will occur, and that the current golf course merger/expansion plan will take place. Meeting fatigue has clearly set in, as shown by the fact that the meetings were not well attended. This is perhaps accounted for by the additional fact that, while relatively small issues have been acknowledged and sometimes addressed, big questions about the golf course, nature sanctuary, road changes, and the siting of the OPC itself have been off limits throughout. While Park District presenters continue to say “we are listening” and “this is a work in progress,” this version of the Framework Plan will be taken to the Park District Board for approval in the near future (April 11 is the targeted date).

If you missed the meetings, the presentation slides and posters are available on-line and comments on the “draft” plans can still be submitted.

Is it inevitable?

Many have noted the ways in which the Obama Foundation, the Mayor, the Park District, and CDOT have portrayed the adoption of all the plans for major changes to Jackson Park as inevitable, a Chicago-style “done deal.” But is that accurate? Here are some things to remember:

  • Plans for the Obama Presidential Center to date have no permissions, no approvals, and no permits. Final approval is not possible prior to the conclusion of the federal review process.
  • Plans for the major road changes CDOT has proposed to accommodate the OPC have no permissions, no approvals, and no permits. Final approval is not possible prior to the conclusion of the federal review process.
  • The adoption of the hastily executed South Lakefront Framework Plan is an attempt to enshrine the OPC, the associated road changes, and the expanded/merged golf course proposal, but it does nothing to assure that the proposed changes will be implemented. Funding for those three initiatives is not yet secured, and funding for the associated park amenities which many in the community would enjoy is not on hand and will not be even after the SLFP is approved.

Your support is time-urgent!

We have appreciated generous donations from a large number of supporters for our work to date. Now we find ourselves in the position of asking for additional contributions.

We believe that our new roads initiative is critical to our work going forward for several reasons:

  • the roads proposal is the most problematic part of the overall plans to “transform” Jackson Park, relying as it does on massive, discretionary, and disruptive taxpayer-funded changes to the road system in the Park;
  • the road changes need to pass numerous federal reviews (section 106, section 4(f), NEPA), and approval is not certain;
  • exploring options only makes sense so that all concerned can consider alternatives that would be in the best interests of the OPC and the community it wishes to benefit.

Beyond our roads initiative, we continue to need funds to support the legal counsel that has been critical to focus our efforts effectively. If you have questions about our request for support, please feel free to contact us at jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com.

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

Jackson Park Watch Update – March 4, 2018

Greetings all!

Obama Foundation’s second public meeting pitches project

The Obama Foundation’s public meeting on February 27 featured an appearance by former President Obama himself in full campaign mode to promote the transformational impact of the OPC on the South Side. No changes to the Obama Presidential Center or the CDOT road plans were announced, although numerous questions about the road plans were raised in the related breakout session. The Tribune responded with an editorial raising important questions about the seeming absence of practical plans to realize the promised $3 billion in OPC-related growth over the coming decade along with the concern that, like the Museum of Science and Industry, the OPC might have virtually no positive impact on the neighborhood. Tribune critic Blair Kamin followed with a commentary noting two challenges presented by the OPC: balancing the tension between the opportunities for economic development and the dangers of residential displacement, and “the difficult and still-unresolved task of placing the Obama center in the historic landscape of Jackson Park.”

More meetings!

Yes, we know, there have been a lot of meetings. Now the Park District has announced two more – March 13 and 14 – to review the new South Lakefront Plan prior to finalizing it for submission to the Park District Board in April and thereby enshrining plans for the expanded golf course, road changes, and new OPC footprint. We note that those plans have not been approved yet and, in the end, may not be. The meetings will take place at the South Shore Cultural Center, from 5:30 to 8:00 p.m. both days, with a presentation scheduled for 6:15. We realize the many followers of JPW Updates have been to untold numbers of public meetings, too many of which have resulted in little if any responsive revisions in the plans presented. Nonetheless, we urge you to attend once again and to let your views be known. Absence of public participation can be all to readily construed as public apathy, which is far from the case as regards plans for Jackson Park.

It’s about the PARK

JPW appreciates Lolly Bowean’s recent analysis in the Tribune , skillfully demonstrating that differing opinions about the roads, the Obama Presidential Center and the golf course are not neatly divided along any of the predictable lines of race, class, or education. As we all work toward an outcome that is positive for Jackson Park, for the neighborhood, for the broader community, and for the OPC and its positive mission, JPW hopes that we can remember this.

Preservation Chicago continues to sound the alarm

A year ago Preservation Chicago included Jackson Park and the South Shore Cultural Center in its annual “Chicago 7 Most Endangered ” list of historic sites in Chicago, shining a light on the threats represented by proposals for the parks from private-interest groups with no public accountability — the Obama Foundation, the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance, and Project 120. Now Preservation Chicago has taken the unusual step of including those two parks again in its 2018 Chicago 7 list, indeed putting them at the top of the list and adding the Midway Plaisance to the roster of threatened South Side landmarks.   Renewing its call for a transparent, comprehensive, and thoughtful planning process for the South Side parks to protect the historic landscapes and structures, Preservation Chicago also offers six specific recommendations that warrant the attention of JPW readers.

Section 106-related updates

The JPW website’s coverage of the federal reviews currently underway now includes a letter from the Hyde Park Historical Society concerning Cornell Drive and the Perennial Garden that was recently submitted for the Section 106/NEPA process. The federal reviews themselves have been delayed and extended. The next Section 106 meeting, originally scheduled for February, will now take place sometime in March; the full federal review process is now expected to continue until at least December.

Save this date: Plan Commission hearing April 19

While the federal reviews seemingly lag, the Chicago Plan Commission hearing on the applications for the OPC and the CDOT-designed road changes remains set for April 19. There will be opportunities for testimony from the public; you may want to plan to be there. JPW’s FOIA work indicates that surprisingly few impact studies about of the Obama tower or road changes have been conducted in preparation for that hearing. JPW remains concerned about the absence of overall comprehensive planning and the segmented nature of the approach the City and Obama Foundation are pursuing. Look for more about these issues in the future.

Your support is essential!

As the Plan Commission hearing date nears, we continue to seek expert legal and technical counsel in order to raise key questions and pursue community concerns. Your check to support this expert assistance can be sent to Jackson Park Watch, P.O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615. We thank you!

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

Jackson Park Watch Update – February 18, 2018

Greetings all!

NEW!   The Jackson Park Watch website has been newly updated.  Check out the all-new Obama Center page and the updated Golf Course page to get the latest information and community perspectives at www.jacksonparkwatch.org .  Share the link with interested friends, neighbors, and colleagues.

Another public meeting

The Obama Foundation, with assistance from the Park District and CDOT,  has announced a public meeting on Tuesday, February 27 – only its second in 9 months.  The meeting will be at McCormick Place starting at 5 p.m.  While it is billed as an opportunity “to receive feedback on its zoning application and the Obama Presidential Center design,” JPW wonders whether the meeting will also include a marching band or celebrity appearances, as was the case at the Obama Foundation’s only other public meeting back in September.  JPW also wonders whether the promised breakout sessions on topics such as site design, economic impact, and CDOT’s proposed road changes will allow for substantive dialogue, or instead, as has been the case, will feature poster boards with limited chances for two-way discussion.

The meeting is to be held in the Grand Ballroom of the South Building of McCormick Place, which faces on King Drive and is located just south of (and connected to) the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place Hotel.  Entrance is through Gate 4.   We encourage community members to attend with questions and concerns but limited expectations for actual input.

Park District and CDOT forge ahead to close Cornell Drive

Without waiting for public feedback on February 27, or for review by the Chicago Plan Commission and the City Council, or for finalization of its much-touted South Lakefront Framework Plan, or for the results of the current federal reviews that will conclude in the Fall,  the Chicago Park District’s Board of Commissions last Wednesday – unanimously and without any discussion – authorized Park District CEO Mike Kelly to take steps that would enable the implementation of CDOT’s so-far unvetted plans for radical road changes in Jackson Park.

It was perhaps only a coincidence that the Board’s action took place at a sparsely attended meeting held far away from the Park District’s downtown headquarters, or that the documents discussed at the meeting were not available to the public at the meeting or on the Park District website, but the Sun-Times turned its spotlight on the vote and its implications.  The land swap authorized between the Park District and CDOT does not mean that road construction would start immediately, but it does signal that the powers that be are not looking for community input in spite of public statements by City and Obama Foundation officials.

Note that the Board of Commissioners vote dealt with only a portion of Cornell Drive and other roads within the park; road segments that lie within the current site claimed by the Obama Foundation will require additional steps.


Buried under the heading “Midway Plaisance” in the Chicago Department of Transportation’s application to the Plan Commission for approval to make massive (taxpayer funded) road changes in Jackson Park is this proposal, never before made public:

“North of the Midway Plaisance [on Cornell Drive from 59th north to 57th] a road diet will be implemented with new pavement markings to reduce Cornell Drive to one lane in each direction with a painted median and on-street parking on both sides of the road [emphasis added].  Approximately 70 on-street parking spaces would be added to offset a portion of the 150 spaces lost on Hayes Drive.”

JPAC does it again, sadly

Long time Update readers may recall the controversy two years ago when the Jackson Park Advisory Council endorsed the Project 120 proposal for a pavilion and outdoor music venue without having notified the membership in advance that the issue would be taken up.  At this month’s JPAC meeting, history unfortunately repeated itself.  A report from the JPAC golf committee turned into an endorsement when a motion was made to suspend the rules and proceed to a vote, again disregarding concerns that the membership had not been notified that the issue would come up for a vote.

Events you may want to attend

March 7, 6-8 p.m.

The impact of the Obama Presidential Center on Chicago’s South Side will be the focus of a public symposium at the University of Chicago featuring national and local experts on Wednesday, March 7.  The event will be 6-8 p.m., in Kent Hall (1020 E. 58th Street).  The symposium is a follow-up to a January 4, 2018 letter signed by 200 members of the University’s faculty expressing strong support for establishing the OPC on the South Side, while raising concerns about the specifics of its plan.  The event is free and open to the public, but registration is required.

March 10, 8:30 a.m.- 12 noon

Jackson Park Watch’s Margaret Schmid will be a panelist at the Ancona School’s symposium on “Race and Green Space in Chicago” on Saturday morning, March 10.  The event runs from 8:30 a.m. until noon.  Given the concerns about the impact of the major changes proposed for Jackson Park on open green spaces in the park and on recreational opportunities for local uses and local users, the symposium will offer a timely opportunity for discussion and exchange of information.   The Ancona School is at 4770 S. Dorchester.  Registration is encouraged by not required;  Click here to register today.


We continue to seek expert legal and technical counsel as we try to raise key questions and pursue community concerns.  Your check to support this expert assistance can be sent to Jackson Park Watch, P.O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615.  We thank you!

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

Jackson Park Watch Update – February 3, 2018

Greetings all!

Community concerns about golf course merger still not addressed

Over 200 people, including many Update readers, were in the room for the Park District’s golf course meeting Wednesday, January 31, at which the latest version of the proposal for the Jackson Park and South Shore courses was unveiled. The presentation materials from the meeting available on the South Lakefront Framework Plan website are difficult to download and to read. Better graphics of the new routing plan can be found on the boosterish website golf.com. The meeting was also covered by the Sun-Times, Tribune and Herald.

Here are some meeting highlights:

  • Park District CEO Mike Kelly is back out in front on this issue, featured at the meeting and in numerous media reports.
  • While there were some tweaks to the plan first presented on June 21, 2017, the basic design remains the same and the main concerns about the design have not been addressed.
    • The proposed expanded/merged golf course still extends beyond the footprints of the existing golf courses.
    • The proposed course still takes out the heart of the South Shore Nature Sanctuary, obliterating the lakefront path and fire pit circles on the eastern-most point, and turns that space, with its stunning views north over the lake, into Hole 15.
    • While additional spaces identified as natural areas have been introduced between fairways, they are very fragmented and narrow and would not have wildlife conservation value. Nor would they provide peaceful places so important to human visitors for passive recreation and enjoyment.
    • The recreational fields in Jackson Park and South Shore have not been replaced.  The South Shore beach is smaller, with about half of the current beach shown planted with grasses, presumably to add to the claim of replacement natural areas.
    • Overall, only high level information was made available to the public, with little detail.
  • Costs remain a major concern:
    • To build the course: Kelly stated that he intends to raise $30 million from private donors for the construction of the golf course; there was no information on how much has been raised so far. He also stated that the underpasses needed for the plan would cost taxpayers $30 million, but did not reveal where those funds would come from. Nor did he address the other major costs associated with the project – for the closure of Marquette Drive, for the planned new beach house , or for shoring up the lake edge along the South Shore course.
    • To use the course: Despite Mike Kelly’s statement that Chicago golfers would pay no more than $50, adequate information about the fee schedule – including when the most affordable fee times would be scheduled – is still lacking. There are still no assurances that current existing golfers would be able to continue to afford or have access to the course.
    • To operate the course: Questions about a viable business plan for the merged course were not addressed. There was no information about projected use of the new course or about possible PGA tournaments and the financial arrangements they would entail.
  • New themes: Mike Kelly and Beau Welling, the actual golf course designer who gave the presentation while frequently invoking Tiger Woods’ name, introduced these new emphases:
    • It’s all about the kids (over and over).
    • It’s all about bringing the community together. (One of the changes would be to locate the main club house south of what is now Marquette and just west of Jeffrey. It was described as the “community clubhouse,” where people from the Jackson Park Highlands neighborhood could find a “food and beverage outlet.”)
    • It’s all about serving local golfers. “The last thing we want to do is to make the course too difficult.”
  • The main improvement:  By relocating some of the fairways, what is now Marquette Drive would become a multi-use pedestrian path, and some of the existing mature trees would be preserved.

The presentation on January 31 was just that – a presentation. No questions were taken after the speakers concluded. Attendees were told to look at the boards and talk with staff. No additional meeting(s) has been scheduled. If you were unable to voice your concerns that evening or if you were one of the many who were not able to attend the meeting due to the last-minute scheduling, you can submit your comments on the South Lakefront Framework Plan website.

Your views matter! You can also express your concerns directly to:

Pro-OPC rally planned for mid-February

Those who have been following the schedule for the Plan Commission and Section 106/NEPA review processes now underway will have noted the listing of a public meeting in mid-February to prepare for the Plan Commission’s April hearing. This “preparatory” meeting is to be hosted by the Obama Foundation, CDOT, and the Park District. Since a meeting of this sort of unusual, JPW has written to Obama Foundation President David Simas, Park District CEO Mike Kelly, and CDOT Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld to ask for information. In the meantime, JPW has learned from other sources that this is expected to be a pep rally akin to the Obama Foundation’s first (and last) public meeting at the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place on September 14, which featured a marching band and a live-streamed appearance by former President Obama. As we learn more, we will share our information.

Another problematic CDOT proposal

As we continue to review the CDOT application for all of the road changes that the Obama Foundation wants to require, we noted with some amazement that CDOT proposes to narrow Cornell Drive between 57th and 59th Streets to one lane in either direction, allowing on-street parking in that segment in order to make up for some of the 150 parking spaces it would ban on Hayes Drive. CDOT euphemistically terms this a “road diet,” but it would likely be called a “bottleneck” (or more) by the drivers forced to merge at that point. What a concept!


Expert counsel is critical to our ability to raise key questions and pursue community concerns. Please consider a contribution (or a second one). Your check can be sent to Jackson Park Watch, P.O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615. We thank you!

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

Jackson Park Watch Update – January 27, 2018

Greetings, all! 

NEW! With typical short notice, the Park District/Chicago Parks Golf Alliance has scheduled ONE (and only one!) meeting for community review and discussion of the golf course plans: NEXT WEDNESDAY, Jan. 31, at the South Shore Cultural Center at 6 p.m.


Key issues to check on include:
* preservation of the Nature Sanctuary and recreation areas;
* expansion of the new golf course site beyond the current footprints of the courses;
* expansion of the current driving range rather than shifting it south of Hayes Drive;
* continued accessibility and affordability for local golfers;
* cost to taxpayers for infrastructure work; and
* evidence of a viable business plan.

NOTE: JPW advocates opposition to changes that go beyond the footprints of the current courses and/or that remove the Nature Sanctuary and existing recreational areas. A key point you may want to make: the upgraded golf course does NOT need to be longer and could fit in the current footprint! In fact, current discussions in golfing circles focus on problems with longer golf courses, with some elite players predicting that shorter courses are the wave of the future.

OPC redesign prompts further questions:

Jackson Park Watch has not previously commented extensively on the OPC site plan or building design. However, as JPW and others have had a chance to review the revised design for the Obama Presidential Center, attention is required.

The substantially greater height of the proposed tower (now 235’) and the revelation that the Obama Foundation apparently intends to spotlight it at night have been focal points for many. (For comparison, the Museum of Science and Industry is approximately 125’ tall and the Logan Center for the Performing Arts on the UChicago campus, also by the OPC architects, is 170’ tall.) Concerns about the large shadow on sunny days and the nighttime light pollution in the surrounding neighborhoods as well as about the impact on migrating birds are getting attention.

Questions about the uses of the proposed buildings have also been raised. The Lakefront Protection Ordinance application describes the tower as “composed of 8 primary floors and multiple mezzanine levels”; the museum is described as taking up about half of the building. There will be rental/event space in the tower and in other buildings. The relationship between the proposed 40,000 sq. ft. Athletic Center and the Jackson Park Fieldhouse and South Side YMCA has not been made clear.

Some have taken note of the overall site plan as well, observing that all traces of the existing segment of Jackson Park – trees, shrubs, grass, even the existing grade levels – would be eliminated by the OPC design. (The Obama Foundation plans to clear-cut and level the site.) Questions about the amount of existing recreational space that would be eliminated have been raised also, as well as questions about the replacement parkland that the City is required to provide in lieu of the OPC land. While the Obama Foundation prefers to call the proposed OPC campus “parkland,” a privately controlled site is certainly not a public park. Issues of ownership and control need to be clarified. The Obama Foundation states that the OPC will be free and open to the public, but we know that the museum and the underground parking garage will both require fees, and while presumably those fees have been factored into the budget, that information has yet to be made public.

Many have noted as well that the OPC redesign continues to presume the closure of Cornell Drive and the extensive road changes that would entail (all at taxpayer expense). The absence of attention to public transit or to access by pedestrians or bicycles has also raised some eyebrows: the auto-centric plan includes 450 parking spaces for cars and 38 for bicycles.

Two reviews are underway:

First, the Chicago Plan Commission review. The OPC has applied for rezoning of the park site as a Planned Development, and under a separate application argues that its plan meets all of the requirements of the Lakefront Protection Ordinance. The CPD and CDOT have also submitted related applications; all are available on-line (scroll to bottom of screen). However, the applications do not include many supplementary studies needed for a thorough and rigorous review. Information from shadow and sun access studies, pedestrian circulation studies, tree studies, wind studies, traffic and parking impact studies, and other such vital indicators of the effects of the OPC on the near neighborhood and broader community should be made available for the review, not only to the Plan Commission members but also to the public in general; they are not now available. JPW will be pursuing these issues. The formal Plan Commission hearing on the OPC is now scheduled for mid-April (likely April 19, the regular meeting date).  All interested members of the public will be able to attend and testify, so you may want to add this to your calendar.

Related to the Plan Commission review: It has been announced that the Obama Foundation, CDOT, and the Park District will host public meeting(s) in mid-February in preparation for the Plan Commission hearing. It is unusual for such a preparatory meeting to occur, and it is unclear what purpose such a meeting could serve. JPW has asked for more information and will share what is learned.

Second, the federal review process is focused on the questions of whether the proposed development is appropriate for an historic park that is on the National Register of Historic Places and whether the project will have adverse environmental impacts. Since the Plan Commission and City Council can be expected to approve the applications that come to them, these federal reviews are extremely significant. Construction of the OPC cannot begin until these federal reviews are concluded and mitigation of adverse impacts (if any) is explored.

Stay tuned for more information on these parallel reviews and for specific opportunities for public input.

South Lakefront Framework Plan timing questioned:

Among the “Key Milestone” dates posted on the City Department of Planning and Development website are several unspecified events in January and February designated as “preparation for final steps” in the development of the new South Lakefront Framework Plan and concluding on an unspecified date in April when the final plan would be presented to the Park District Board of Commissioner.

However, as has been noted many times, the Framework Plan process that the Park District is running is seriously flawed in two essential ways:

  • rather than being one coherent planning process that encompasses the whole of Jackson Park, it is siloed, with three (or more) projects being proposed simultaneously yet reviewed separately;
  • further, it is based on the premise that the Obama Presidential Center will be constructed as now proposed, that all of the (costly) road changes it demands will take place; and that the golf course merger/expansion will similarly occur as initially proposed.

In fact, none of these projects can proceed prior to the end of the federal review process described above, which is expected to conclude in the fall at the earliest.   We understand that the Park District wishes to create momentum for all of these proposals. However, any Framework Plan based on these initial premises may well need to be revised shortly depending on what actually transpires during the review.

Help us with a donation!

The legal assistance your donations have enabled us to secure is proving invaluable. Such expert counsel is critical to our ability to raise key questions and concerns. Please consider a contribution (or a second one). Your check can be sent to Jackson Park Watch, P.O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615. We thank you! 

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

Jackson Park Watch Update – January 14, 2018

Greetings, all!

More recent news — AGAIN!

NEW! Be sure to check out the new “Federal Reviews” page on our website for information about the federal review processes and to read the comment letters from a range of organizations that are posted there.

OPC redesign: Hard on the heels of the community’s successful push to force the Obama Foundation to abandon plans for an above-ground parking garage on the east end of the Midway Plaisance, the Obama Foundation, demonstrating its determination to press ahead quickly, released plans for an Obama Presidential Center redesign.

As reported in the Sun-Times, Tribune, and Crain’s Chicago Business, and covered broadly on radio and TV, the redesign, while including some interesting architectural features, is essentially just a restatement of the plans released many months ago – except that the tower is now to be 225’ tall! But still not addressed are many key community concerns, including the impact of the OPC and of the essentially discretionary road changes on the Olmsted design and vision for Jackson Park and the cost and sources of funding for those extensive infrastructure “improvements.” As the Sun-Times noted in an editorial, much more discussion and information are needed. The Sun-Times also reported the previously unpublicized fact that the controversial proposal to close Cornell Drive, which is driving the road configurations, was part of the University of Chicago’s original bid to attract the OPC to Chicago.

  • Not enough people know that Cornell Drive, rather than being a recent addition to the Park, was designed by Olmsted himself in 1895 as the best way to experience the Park. A broad roadway to be shared by carriages and cars, it was 40’ wide. (For more on Olmsted’s vision and design for Jackson Park, see the statements by The Cultural Landscape Foundation and National Association of Olmsted Parks posted on our new “Federal Reviews” page.)

Rezoning and Lakefront Protection Ordinance applications submitted simultaneously:  Also this past week the Obama Foundation submitted formal applications to the City for permission to build the OPC under the Lakefront Protection Ordinance and to rezone the site from parkland zoning to planned development institutional zoning.  Property owners within 250’ of the site that is now claimed for the OPC should soon receive notices of the applications from the Obama Foundation’s law firm Neal & Leroy. If you think should receive such a notice and do not, let JPW know at jacksonparkwarch@gmail.com .

  • JPW is analyzing these applications with the assistance of its attorneys. Look for information about the applications, how this process will unfold, and how the community can participate in the Plan Commission reviews in the near future. Although we know the process is effectively controlled by the Mayor, it is essential that community concerns are raised and that the Obama Foundation, CDOT, and the Department of Planning and Development are required to address them.
  • Note that, as the applications themselves acknowledge, even after Plan Commission and City Council approvals are secured, approvals through the federal reviews now underway are also needed.

OPC construction contracts: The Obama Foundation has received kudos for contracting with the Lakeside Alliance, a consortium that includes four local minority-owned construction firms. While this is indeed good news, it is interesting to note that the fifth, non-minority-owned member of the consortium, Turner Construction Co., will alone have a 49% share of the work.

Help us continue our work with a donation!

The federal reviews will continue for many months; they are key to the final outcome. In the meantime, the Plan Commission/City Council process needs to be critically scrutinized.   Much is at stake. Your donations help us bring outside expertise to maximize the community voice. Please consider a contribution. Your check can be sent to Jackson Park Watch, P.O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615. We thank you!

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