Jackson Park Watch Update – March 30, 2019

Greetings, all!

There have been a variety of interesting developments.  We note them below.   

Major grant to Protect Our Parks

Of great interest is the $100,000 grant given to Protect Our Parks by the Reva and David Logan Foundation to help fund its lawsuit against the City of Chicago and Chicago Park District.  That lawsuit concerns the siting of the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park.  The fact that this was described as an “initial” grant makes it even more significant.

In the statement announcing the grant, Logan Foundation board chairman Richard Logan commented “We believe that this ‘land grab’ is both legally and morally wrong, and that the City of Chicago, the Obama Foundation and their partners need to reconsider their choice of location for this project.  There are so many sites in the city that could benefit from the kudos, the opportunities for employment and the neighborhood regeneration without taking public land and destroying historic city parklands.”

The Logan Foundation funded the construction of the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts at the University of Chicago (915 E. 60th St.)  The architects who designed the Logan Center, Tod Williams and Billie Tsein, were chosen by the Obama Foundation to design the OPC.

POP lawsuit progresses

Despite prodding by federal Judge John R. Blakey, wrangling between the Protect Our Parks’ small legal team and the City’s stable of lawyers about the release of documents and the taking of depositions continues as the City has employed the classic technique of “running out the clock” on the period allowed for discovery.  In the last week, however, the City has produced several sets of documents, now under review. 

JPW is assisting with document review.  One fun find:  the City and Obama Foundation have repeatedly asserted that Cornell Drive was originally designed by Olmsted as a “bridle path,” with the implication that it was narrow and the pace slow. To the contrary, in the Sam Schwartz Engineering traffic studies conducted for the Obama Foundation in 2015, we found this: “The streets within the park were originally designed to allow horse and buggies to easily traverse through them. This design provided excess space for modern vehicles, which has led to vehicles using these streets to speed through the park.”

Obama Foundation documents reviewed

Because of the discovery requirements set forth by Judge Blakey, the Obama Foundation has also released a new set of documents relating to its selection of the Jackson Park site under the not-too-subtle banner of “Jackson Park: The Right Choice.”

We encourage you to take a look at the 2014 analysis of the proposals received by the Obama Foundation as it ramped up preparations for the Obama Presidential Center (then Library).  Even more interesting is the 2016 analysis by U3Advisors of the economic impact, risks, and opportunities of locating the OPC in either Washington Park or Jackson Park/Woodlawn. 

Both analyses demonstrated that the Washington Park location was at least as favorable as the Jackson Park/Woodlawn location.  They also make it clear that one decisive difference was the relative risk and difficulty of the task:  The Jackson Park location was the safe choice, with well-established partner organizations ready to help out (MSI, Apostolic Church of God, for example, in addition to the University).  On the other hand, while the Washington Park location was considerably more aligned with the Obama Foundation’s claim to be engaged in community development and transformation, no such partner organizations were already on hand and having to serve as the main engine of change single-handedly posed a far more difficult set of challenges. One might suggest that, rather than the “right” choice, Jackson Park was the “safe” choice.

Also of interest is the economic impact study  completed in 2016 but now released in full for the first time.  Relying on projections of visits to the OPC as well as potential developments and events that may or may not materialize, it can best be considered aspirational.

Interesting commentary

For those inclined to more reading and a more measured assessment, we recommend the fine Next City commentary on the likely impacts of the Obama Presidential Center on Chicago’s South Side.  It takes a somewhat new and very useful look at the voices and issues involved.


Thanks to all who have recently offered financial support.  As always, we welcome your contributions.  Checks made out to Jackson Park Watch can be sent to directly to Jackson Park Watch, P.O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615.  Checks from donor-directed funds should be sent to our fiscal sponsor Friends of the Parks at FOTP, 17 N. State St., Suite 1450, Chicago 60602.  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
Co-presidents, Jackson Park Watch

Jackson Park Watch Update – March 12, 2019


Greetings, all:   

City stonewalling in Protect Our Parks lawsuit?

The Protect Our Parks lawsuit hearing originally set for Thursday, March 7, was cancelled as POP’s attorney continued to exchange communications with the City and the Park District while pushing for discovery documents that Judge John R. Blakey has directed them to produce. Protect Our Parks has sued the City and Chicago Park District over the siting of the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park.  POP supports siting the OPC on Chicago’s south side, but not in a public park. 

At the February 27 hearing, Judge John R. Blakey had granted most of the POP’s requests related to discovery.  The City was directed to produce documents related to projected costs of the OPC, to traffic and environmental analyses, and to an analysis of the financial benefits to the Obama Foundation deriving from the OPC. Over objections from the City, Judge Blakey also told the defendants to identify a City official to be deposed by the plaintiffs with regard to the discovery documents.  He also left open the possibility of additional depositions in the future.  

To date the City has not produced any documents and continues to insist that all POP requests are unreasonable, beyond the scope of what the Judge directed, immaterial and irrelevant, and the like.  Likewise, the City is stonewalling POP’s request to name an official to be deposed. The Park District positions echo whatever the City says.

Stonewalling is a classic tactic, especially in a David v. Goliath situation such as this.  We might expect that the City will withhold documents until the last possible minute and will then deliver them all at once in a massive data dump, making it extremely difficult for the receiving legal team to review them in a timely manner.  Resistance to the court-approved deposition is also par for the course. 

We will continue to follow the situation and will keep you posted.  In the meantime, Judge Blakey has not changed the previously set date of April 19 for the close of discovery, a very tight timeline in any case.  Hearings in the lawsuit are now scheduled through May.

Push for OPC-linked Community Benefits Agreement advances

As reported in the Sun-Times, voters in parts of the 5th and 20th wards on Chicago’s South Side voted overwhelmingly on February 26 for a referendum to support a community benefits agreement in connection with the Obama Presidential Center.  The non-binding measure backed by close to 90% of the votes cast calls for a CBA along with a 30 percent set-aside for affordable housing, a property tax freeze, and funding for local jobs and affordable housing in the area surrounding the planned OPC.

While 5th ward incumbent alderman Leslie Hairston does not support a CBA, William Calloway, her opponent in the April 2 run-off, does.  Both of the two finalists in the aldermanic election runoff in the 20th ward, Jeanette Taylor and Nicole Johnson, support a CBA.

Additionally, both finalists in the hotly contested race for Chicago’s next mayor, Lori Lightfoot and Toni Preckwinkle, support a CBA.  Further, the Chicago Tribune editorialized in support of a CBA on March 1.

We’ll see whether other hard and fast positions start to change in the coming weeks and months.  As usual, stay tuned.

Obama’s self-curated story

Following up on the recent article in the New York Times examining the implications of the fact that the OPC would not be a presidential library, NPR’s On the Media series last week devoted an 18-minute segment to the further implications of this precedent-setting separation of the OPC from the National Archives Research Administration (NARA) – what it could mean for future museum-goers, future historians of the Obama presidency, access to unbiased accounts of presidential administrations, and future presidential museums (think Trump). We recommend it.

Interviews with Tim Naftali, former director of the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, and Louise Bernard, director of the OPC museum, highlight the challenges of having the OPC single-handedly curate its own story.  Naftali points out that numerous existing presidential museums, operated in tandem with NARA-managed libraries, have moved beyond focusing only on positives to examine controversial issues such as the internment of Japanese-Americans under FDR, Harry Truman’s decision to drop the hydrogen bomb on Hiroshima, and the Vietnam War under LBJ, raising questions as to whether the self-curated Obama Museum would discuss such issues as drone strikes and the “red line in the sand” edict to Syria.  Given the Obama Foundation’s lack of transparency on so many issues, Louise Bernard’s polished assurances may not seem reassuring. 

Update readers will recall that the documentary archives of the Obama administration, rather than being housed at the Obama Presidential Center and overseen there by NARA, will be held by NARA elsewhere, most likely in Kansas.  In a move hailed by some as reflecting a general trend toward electronic communications of all sorts, the Obama documents will be digitized at the Obama Foundation’s expense and made available online free of charge. Not incidentally, the decision to abandon the original plan for a customary presidential library, one subject to NARA regulations, saved the Obama Foundation significant amounts of money.

Intriguing suggestion

At a time when plans for the OPC are stuck in gridlock due to community resistance, the POP lawsuit, and the required federal reviews, a creative suggestion for breaking the deadlock was put forth in a recent letter to the Chicago Tribune: rename the Park for former President Obama; put up an Obama statue in the Park; relocate the OPC to the near neighborhood but off of public parkland; and let construction begin.  Kudos for out-of-the-box thinking on this!  We need more.


Thanks to all who have recently offered financial support.  As always, we welcome your support.  Checks made out to Jackson Park Watch can be sent to Jackson Park Watch, P.O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615.  Checks from funds that need to be processed by our fiscal sponsor Friends of the Parks can be sent to FOTP, 17 N. State St., Suite 1450, Chicago 60602.  The checks should be made out to FOTP with a note indicating they are intended for Jackson Park Watch. 

As always, we thank you.

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

Jackson Park Watch Update – February 27, 2019

Greetings, all.   

Today’s Protect Our Parks federal court hearing – City drags feet again, Judge to “micro-manage” the discovery process as a result

Today was the latest federal court hearing in the David v. Goliath saga of the small non-profit Protect Our Parks’ lawsuit against the City and Park District.  The lawsuit challenges the siting of the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park.

Today’s hearing focused on issues related to discovery, that is, the kinds and amounts of information that the City and the Obama Foundation will have to turn over to POP as a part of the case.  This is a key issue: back-room decision making and the absence of meaningful community input have been hallmarks of the process of siting the OPC in Jackson Park from the beginning.  This includes the related plans to close and realign roads at taxpayer expense, construct a 235-foot  museum tower, clear-cut the site, and obliterate all traces of the current Olmsted design.  The discovery process in the POP lawsuit is an important chance for the public to get information on just what has occurred.

Judge John R. Blakey began by questioning both POP and the City attorneys about the status of discovery.  It was readily apparent that the City, which has not yet produced any documents beyond those that are already publicly available, was once again dragging its feet.  Saying “We will have discovery,” Judge Blakey ultimately directed the City to produce a variety of documents including those concerning projected costs to the city and state of the proposed OPC plans and road changes; traffic and environmental analyses; and an analysis of the financial benefits to the Obama Foundation of the proposed OPC plans. He directed the City to identify an official  to be deposed by POP concerning those documents, leaving open the possibility of additional depositions later on.

Judge Blakey concluded this section of the hearing by setting April 19 as the close of discovery, a very tight timeline.  He went on to set an equally demanding schedule for the next steps in this case:

  • May 3 as the date for the parties to submit motions for summary judgment, each asking the Judge to rule in its favor
  • May 17 as the date for the responses to these motions;
  • May 24 for the replies to those responses; and
  • May 30 for a hearing on the motions.

As the hearing seemed to be drawing to a close, the City’s outside attorney from the firm Mayer Brown raised a new round of questions as to what documents the City was to produce.  After a brief exchange with the attorney, Judge Blakey announced “I will have to micro-manage your discovery,” and set another hearing for next Thursday, March 7, at 11 a.m. to review progress on discovery.

Other top news:

Also today, Preservation Chicago released its 2019 Chicago 7 Most Endangered List, identifying the most threatened historic buildings and sites in the city.

For the third year in a row, Jackson Park, the South Shore Cultural Center, and the Midway Plaisance were ranked in first place, with plans for the Obama Presidential Center and a PGA-style golf course judged to be the current most significant threat to historic buildings and landscapes in Chicago.  Presentation Chicago specifically noted that parceling off these public lands for private use would have devastating impacts on these historic sites and landscapes and would establish extremely negative precedents.


Thanks to all who have recently offered financial support.  We continue to welcome your donations.  Checks made out to Jackson Park Watch can be sent to Jackson Park Watch, P.O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615.  Donations that need to be funneled through our fiscal sponsor Friends of the Parks can be sent to FOTP, 17 N. State St., Suite 1450, Chicago 60602, with a note indicating they are intended for Jackson Park Watch.

We thank you.

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

Jackson Park Watch – February 25, 2019

Greetings, all.  

Another POP hearing this Wednesday- stay tuned!

This Wednesday, February 27, at 10:30 a.m., Federal Judge John R. Blakey will preside over another hearing in the Protect Our Parks lawsuit against the City and Park District. The suit challenges the siting of the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park.

Why is this Wednesday’s hearing important? Following Judge Blakey’s ruling last week that POP has standing and is entitled to bring its case to federal court, the next key issue is how much information the City will be forced to reveal to POP in order for POP to make its case. The City has consistently argued against being required to share such internal information, and in fact not long ago argued that the Judge should make his decision based solely on three public documents – the Planned Development Ordinance adopted in May 2018, the OPC Ordinance in October 2018, and the yet-to-signed Use Agreement appended to the OPC Ordinance. While Judge Blakey did not buy the City’s argument, his decision on the contested issue of “discovery” this Wednesday will determine how much information on a host of issues the City will be required to share.

The extremely contentious nature of the “discovery” issue, one that continues to be rooted in the City’s habits of secrecy and opaqueness, has been demonstrated once again. The parties were directed by Judge Blakey to confer and submit a single joint report on what information the City would provide to POP. POP had streamlined its requests for information, but the City remained adamant. As a result, separate reports were submitted to the Judge. The Judge has now rejected them both, directing the parties to submit a single joint report by 5 pm tomorrow.

Wednesday’s hearing will be a case management conference. Judge Blakey will rule on the disputes over discovery, will set a 45-day or longer period for finalizing discovery, and will also set a firm six-week schedule for the final briefings and ruling. A trial may follow.

On other matters

Judge Blakey’s ruling that the POP lawsuit could continue was followed by some incisive commentary on various aspects of the dispute:

City Lab, an on-line affilate of the Atlantic that covers urban issues worldwide, put the OPC project in the context of other land-use battles in New York, Toronto and Washington, all grounded in controversies and concern about public trust and the lack of governmental transparency in how economic development decisions are made.

The New York Times explored the background story and import of “The Obama Presidential Library That Isn’t.”

The Tribune’s architecture critic Blair Kamin noted that the issue of using lakefront parkland is always problematic and that “‘No Drama Obama’ is in a legal box of his own making.”

The Sun-Times, editorializing on “Rahm’s last big favor for the Obama Presidential Center,” noted that “we have never liked this feeling that the fix is in.”


We appreciate all those who have offered financial support in recent weeks. This kind of work is intensive and expensive since it requires frequent consults with our legal counsel, and thus we continue to welcome (and in fact need) additional financial support. Checks made out to Jackson Park Watch 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 19, 2019

Greetings, all.  

Judge rules against City’s motion for dismissal of POP lawsuit

Today was the long-awaited federal court ruling on the motion to dismiss the Protect Our Parks lawsuit against the City and the Chicago Park District. The POP lawsuit challenges the siting of the Obama Presidential Center in historic Jackson Park. POP strongly supports a South Side location for the OPC, but opposes a site in a public park.

Federal Judge John R. Blakey, who is hearing the case, had the options of dismissing the suit for lack of subject matter standing, or granting standing to POP on some or all of the charges and allowing the suit to continue with further discovery (that is, court-supervised gathering of evidence for POP’s use).

Fortunately, Judge Blakey chose to grant standing to the majority of the charges filed by Protect Our Parks, meaning that the lawsuit can continue. He also allowed POP to engage in further discovery. At the case management conference already set for February 27, Judge Blakey will rule on any discovery disputes, set a 45-day period for finalizing discovery, and also set a firm six-week schedule for the final briefings and ruling; a trial may follow.

JPW is pleased with Judge Blakey’s ruling today for two major reasons:

  • The rulings will allow the full range of issues included in this complex and controversial case to be aired, including:
    • alleged denial of due process related to this highly controversial grant of invaluable historic public parkland to a private entity;
    • the issues raised in the lawsuit that allege a failure by the Defendants to comply with a host of statutes;
    • the “bait-and switch” involved in converting the Obama Presidential Library to a Presidential Center, altering the site, and insisting on road closures and realignments;
    • the requirement that taxpayers foot an unspecified part of the bill, not only for roadwork, but also for uncapped costs of environmental remediation work related to OPC construction.
  • Importantly, the rulings send the message that public parkland cannot readily be conveyed to a private entity by Chicago City Council legislative fiat without judicial review and scrutiny.

Judge Blakey denied POP standing on two points. First was POP’s claim related to aesthetic and environmental harm to Jackson Park, which Blakey denied on the grounds that POP did not present any plaintiffs who use the Park and alleged such personal harm. Second, Blakey denied POP’s claim that the Plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights would be violated if municipal funds were used to support possible political activities with which they might disagree, ruling that this claim was “unripe” – i.e., premature – but might be resurrected at a later date.

For more information, you can read Judge Blakey’s ruling and early media coverage in the Tribune .

Looking ahead to other fronts

At some point, the federal Section 106/NEPA reviews of the OPC/road plans will resume. We continue to believe that the current plans negatively affect Jackson Park and the surrounding communities. We look to those federal reviews as another venue to address the adverse impacts of those plans on the historic fabric of the park and on the social, economic, and ecological condition of the park and its surrounding communities, and we will continue to participate actively in the federal reviews to develop solutions to those problems.

We also note that the upcoming City elections will provide an opportunity for a new Mayor and new City Council to revisit the key problematic features embedded in the OPC ordinance proposed by Mayor Emanuel and rubber-stamped by the current City Council.


Yes, we are in need of funds! If you would like to support JPW’s efforts, checks made out to Jackson Park Watch can be sent to Jackson Park Watch, P.O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615. Checks that need to be funneled through our fiscal sponsor Friends of the Parks can be sent to FOTP, 17 N. State St., suite 1450, Chicago 60602, with a note indicating they are intended for Jackson Park Watch.

We thank you.

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

Jackson Park Watch Update – February 15, 2019

Greetings, all.    

POP hearing intense, outcomes as yet unclear

The long-awaited hearing on the Protect Our Parks lawsuit against the City and Park District, challenging the siting of the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park, took place Thursday morning, February 14, at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse.  The courtroom was full, media representatives were in attendance, and Judge John Robert Blakey devoted a full hour to the case, focused first on the issue of “standing” (that is, do the issues POP has alleged belong in federal court) and second on the issue of “discovery” (that is, what documents does the City have to provide to POP to allow it to build evidence).

On standing

The City brought in outside counsel to argue vigorously that Protect Our Parks should be denied standing on a wide variety of counts and that the case should therefore be dismissed. In response POP reiterated why its charges merit federal review.  Judge Blakely then announced that he will issue a ruling on the issue of standing by Tuesday, February 19.  At that time he could deny standing and dismiss the case; he could grant standing and allow the case to proceed; or he could deny standing on some of the counts but let others stand, thus also allowing the case to proceed. Given the importance of many of the issues central to the case, we are cautiously optimistic that the judge will grant standing on at least some of the counts.

On discovery

As has been true with virtually all things related to the Obama Presidential Center from the beginning, the City is trying to cloak its actions in secrecy.  POP has asked for numerous documents and the City has produced only a very few.  At yesterday’s hearing, Judge Blakey asked POP to list the information it seeks, and asked the City to respond on each request.  In almost every instance, the City’s response was that the information requested is “categorically irrelevant” and “outside of the corners” of the case.  The City’s position is that the only documents that are relevant for deciding the suit are the Planned Development Ordinance, the OPC Ordinance of October 31 drafted by the Mayor and rubber-stamped by the City Council, and the Use Agreement appended to the OPC Ordinance.

(Importantly, the OPC Ordinance noted above consists largely of 93 “Whereas” clauses to justify approval of siting the OPC in Jackson Park. These statements are a mix of fact, fiction, falsehood, and undocumented promotional claims, yet the City’s position is that, because the ordinance was approved by the City Council, these are legislative findings of fact and must be given unfettered judicial deference.)

After this call and non-response, Judge Blakey ordered the parties to confer and try to come to agreement on which of POP’s requests for discovery would be honored, and to report the outcome to him by February 22.  He then set a hearing for February 27, at which point he will rule on the remaining disagreements, set a schedule for final discovery, and move the process forward.

Reports on the hearing have appeared in the Tribune, Hyde Park Herald, Sun-Times, and nationally via Associated Press.

On other matters

Golf Project Status Check

When the plan to merge and expand the South Shore and Jackson Park golf courses into a single PGA-level course was announced by Mayor Emanuel and Park District Superintendent Kelly in December 2016, they projected that construction on the project would begin in 2017.  That didn’t happen, so what is the schedule now?

Craig Bowen, a representative of  the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance, the quasi-private entity created by the Park District to make the golf course project a reality, announced at the February  meeting of the Jackson Park Advisory Council that all is well, ground will be broken this spring at the South Shore segment, local golfers will definitely be protected, and more.  The catch?  When asked for documentation of the plans, Bowen responded only that  “they will be available soon.”

To the contrary, however, Park District staff have since indicated that the only ground to be broken at South Shore this year will be for the a long-awaited new beach house  (perhaps in the summer, after plans have been completed and fully vetted by the community – yes, they are promising community input).  Beyond that, construction on the golf course project cannot proceed until the preparatory engineering and planning work by Smith Group JJR is completed, until the current and additional federal reviews are concluded, and until funds (private and public) are obtained for all aspects of the project.

Meanwhile, the key issues about the golf project – local access, loss of non-golf recreational features, high cost, funding sources – are laid out in a recent article in SwingU.com by Bill Daniels, golf industry expert and avid golfer (in Jackson Park as well as everywhere else).    Daniels notes the many financial, logistical and political obstacles that poke holes in the current CPGA plan, and envisions a more realistic possibility of renewing and improving  the courses in their current footprints for a tenth of the cost.  He promises to address that option in future articles.

The schedule and overall status of the golf project remain in flux.  We will track its course in future Updates.

The Saga of the SSCC     

A central issue of the golf course project is its impact on the role of the South Shore Cultural Center as a community center for arts and recreation.   An informative history of the SSCC can be found in the recent South Side Weekly.  “A Palace for the People” traces the story of what is now named South Shore Beach Park from its first incarnation as an exclusionary country club  through the community activism of the 1970s that saved the building from demolition and transformed it into a mecca for jazz concerts and other arts programming to its current status as a Park District events center in the crosshairs of new development.  Recommended reading.

Promontory Point on National Register

Update readers on Chicago’s South Side may remember the successful effort to “Save the Point” of some years ago.  One year ago, Promontory Point Park was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Now the Promontory Point Conversancy is planning to put a commemorative National Register plaque in the park.  For more information or to support the effort, go to www.promontorypoint.org.


Having tallied up the tab for the intense work of the last two months, we need your support.  With the help of our legal counsel, we submitted the amicus curiae brief co-authored with Preservation Chicago, and we provided considerable technical assistance to the POP lawsuit. Please give generously. If you have questions, please feel free to direct them to JPW co-president and treasurer Margaret Schmid at jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com.

We thank you.

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

Jackson Park Watch Update – January 30, 2019

Greetings, all.   

Despite all the distractions offered by cold weather and local and national politics, the myriad questions surrounding the controversial plans for the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park, along with all the related discretionary, tax-payer-funded roadwork, continue to be out there and in need of attention.

The federal review process appears to be on deep hold.  Nothing has happened since the September 17, 2018 meeting hosted by the National Park Service.  No more meetings are scheduled until “early 2019.”

The Protect Our Parks federal lawsuit, meanwhile, is alive and well.  The defendants, the City and the Chicago Park District, are doing everything possible to get the suit dismissed at the next hearing, February 14.  We continue to believe that the lawsuit raises key issues about the propriety of using historic public parkland for what is, in the end, a private venture, and hope that the POP charges will be given a full review.  To that end, we partnered with Preservation Chicago to submit a friend of the court brief to make two points:  first, that the argument put forth by the City and Park District (and Obama Foundation) that there is a Chicago tradition of building museums in public parks is factually inaccurate; second, that the status of the eleven museums now situated in Chicago parks is not threatened by the POP challenge to the OPC.

You can review the contents of the Preservation Chicago/JPW brief plus two other important briefs supporting the POP suit in this good summary by The Cultural Landscape Foundation.  The full texts of the briefs are accessible via the JPW website.

You may also enjoy the coverage of the lawsuit in the recent issue of the Chicago Reader.


Even if the lawsuit were to be dismissed on February 14, the federal review process is far from over and key issues remain to be resolved.  We are in need of funds to continue our work. Checks made out to Jackson Park Watch 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 16, 2019

Greetings, all,   

You haven’t heard from us for a time but, beyond taking a break for the holidays, we have been very busy.  The result?  A “friends of the court” amicus brief filed yesterday jointly with Preservation Chicago in relationship to the Protect Our Parks lawsuit.  See below for an excerpt from a press release announcing our brief and two others also filed on Tuesday, all arguing against the City and Park District’s motion to dismiss the POP lawsuit. We continue to believe that the lawsuit raises important issues that deserve a complete public hearing.

We gave considerable thought to taking this step.  While raising many questions, we have not actually opposed locating the OPC in Jackson Park.  Rather we have argued that if Cornell Drive and the Midway Plaisance were kept open with the modifications proposed in our traffic study proposal, much less damage would be done to the historic park and the Olmsted design with better traffic outcomes.  (Note that Obama Foundation officials have twice told us they would build the OPC in Jackson Park even if Cornell were kept open.)  The 235’-tall  Obama museum tower could be modified to better fit with Jackson Park; rather than clear-cutting the site, the designers could situate right-sized buildings among the mature trees.  However, the fact that the “myth” of building museums in Chicago parks is not only totally inaccurate but would pave the way for confiscating much more parkland for other uses prompted us to work with Preservation Chicago on this brief so as to set the record straight.  No one benefits from making an important public policy decision on the basis of false information.

You will find the full texts of all of the briefs and updated information about the suit on the JPW  website.  We hope you will read our brief in full; we also recommend Lynn Sweet’s coverage in the Sun-Times.  

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Briefs rebut claims made by Defendants in Motion to Dismiss Protect our Parks lawsuit

Chicago, IL (January 15, 2019) – Three “friends of the court” (amici curiae) briefs were filed today in Federal Court concerning a lawsuit by Protect Our Parks, Inc. (POP) that challenges the legality of using some 19.3 acres of Jackson Park for the site of the Obama Presidential Center (OPC) (Case No. 18-cv-3424: Protect Our Parks, Inc. v. Chicago Park District and City of Chicago)

  • The Preservation Chicago and Jackson Park Watch brief rebuts the claim of a “tradition” of building museums in Chicago’s public parks;
  • Professor Richard Epstein, with the University of Chicago and New York University Law Schools, asserts the taking of parkland for the OPC violates the public trust doctrine and merits stricter scrutiny; and
  • The Cultural Landscape Foundation in Washington, D.C. says building the OPC would result in irrevocably harming the nationally significant park, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

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In the meantime, our funding balance has been much depleted by our recent work, and the end is nowhere in sight.  We are in need of funds to help sustain our work.  If you have questions about making a contribution, let us know at jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com.  Checks made out to Jackson Park Watch 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 – December 15, 2018

Greetings, all.

LOOKING AHEAD: As 2018 comes to a close, we offer an overview of key issues related to the increasingly controversial Obama Presidential Center proposals, as well as other relevant points. This admittedly lengthy Update will cover:

  • OPC process problems
  • Substantive problems with the OPC proposals
  • The attempted resurrection of the Park District/Mayor Emanuel/President Obama golf course proposal
  • The Friends of the Parks “State of the Park 2018” report

Enjoy reading! HAPPY HOLIDAYS and best wishes for a HAPPY 2019!


★OPC process problems

Community input lacking

Genuine community input about the Obama Presidential Center and related road proposals continues to be lacking. While the Obama Foundation has sent canvassers to some neighborhoods to promote its message and while it has hosted numerous, private and invitation-only meetings, it remains the case the it has convened only two actual community meetings where broad, unfiltered input could be given.

The community drive for a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) has been a particularly hot issue. The Obama Foundation and former President Obama himself have been adamant in their opposition to a CBA, even though such agreements have proven elsewhere to be win-win propositions. The endorsement of a CBA by six mayoral candidates in a recent forum and the recent overview in the Hyde Park Herald demonstrate that the issue is live and gaining support, as does the recent CBA Coalition success in getting the issue on the ballot as a referendum in key precincts.

Problems with mandatory federal reviews

Because the OPC and its related road proposals would have major impacts on the Olmsted-designed historic Jackson Park, federal reviews under the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 and the National Environmental Policy act of 1969.

The City and two city agencies – the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) and the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) – have major roles as day-to-day managers of these federal review processes.   Unfortunately, these agencies along with the Chicago Park District have not always been timely in communications, have not always been fully forth-coming with the information they share, and have not always honored the requirements of the federal review processes themselves.

For example, although the connections between the plans for the OPC and the required replacement of the existing track/field facility on the planned OPC site were clear, the Park District went ahead with the destruction of 40 largely mature and health trees in preparation for that replacement facility, only to be required to stop work until the federal reviews are complete.

As another example, although preliminary discussions between the National Park Service (NPS) and the City on the required replacement “UPAAR” parkland were still underway, the City’s DPD began a series of so-called “community consultations” targeting the east end of the Midway as the replacement land based on a misrepresentation of what had been decided. Fortunately, that effort appears to stopped after several parties called it to NPS attention.

The federal reviews process has been extended repeatedly and the original timelines for the OPC have likewise been repeatedly extended. At this point, the timeline for the next Section 106 meeting, originally scheduled for late spring 2018, is set for “early 2019.” It is unclear when the review process will be complete.

The related POP lawsuit

Much attention has been given to the federal lawsuit filed by Protect Our Parks, a not-for-profit organization, charging that for a variety of public trust and public interest reasons construction of the OPC in historic Jackson Park should not be permitted.   (Note: POP does support construction of the OPC on Chicago’s South Side, just not in a public park.)

The lawsuit is ongoing. In the most recent hearing on Nov. 29, the City’s motion to dismiss the suit was pushed back until a hearing on Feb. 14. At the same time, the City’s motion to end the Court’s previously mandated discovery process, allowing POP to subpoena relevant documents, was denied. (Note: it was a POP subpoena that was responsible for the release of the University of Chicago OPC bid package). The judge did allow the filing of several amicus briefs in support of the City. Other amicus briefs might be forthcoming.

★Substantive problems with OPC plans

Demands for discretionary, tax-payer funded road closures/realignments

On June 21, 2017, the Park District hosted an event featuring the new OPC plan and a radical new road plan developed by the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) to “accommodate new traffic and parking demands of the OPC”. The CDOT road plan, to be implemented at taxpayer expense ($175 million or likely more), would have a major impact on Jackson Park:

  • It would dramatically impact local and commuter traffic patterns, raising major concerns about traffic delays and pedestrian safety.
  • It would chop off strips of existing parkland west of Lake Shore Drive and east of Stony Island Avenue.
  • It would reduce available street parking throughout the park, limiting ready access to central areas and the beach.
  • It would destroy key elements of the Olmsted design for the Park by eliminating Cornell Drive between 59th St and 63rd St., laid out by Olmsted in 1895 as a 40’ wide carriage pathway; it would also destroy the Olmsted design at the juncture of the Midway Plaisance and the Park.
  • It would eliminate the current Perennial Garden at the east end of the Midway Plaisance and replace it with a “Woman’s Garden” whose primary actual purpose would be storm water management.
  • It would convert Hayes Drive, now a moderately busy road with parking along both sides to serve users of local playing fields and the 63rd Street beach, into a high-speed, high-capacity roadway.  It would ban parking on the street and erect a permanent concrete media, thus establishing Hayes as a barrier between the north and south portions of the Park.

Despite these concerns and others, and despite the fact that Obama Foundation officials have acknowledged to JPW that the OPC could and would be built in Jackson Park even if Cornell Drive were to be kept open, the Obama Foundation has been adamant in its refusal to reconsider its demands for these road changes. The Obama Foundation demands for road closures/realignments are a major focus of the federal reviews now underway.


There have been major concerns about the displacement of long-term, low and moderate income residents as property values and property taxes increase pursuant to the construction of the OPC. The dramatic gentrification and displacement that accompanied the construction of the “606” elsewhere in Chicago has only fueled this concern. While savvy, persistent organizing by the CBA Coalition is making good headway in forcing attention to this important issue, the Obama Foundation continues to oppose any CBA and the City has promised only to “monitor” the situation.

What about economic development?

The Obama Foundation and former President Obama himself as well as various City politicians have made extravagant claims about the economic development benefits that will accrue to the Chicago’s South Side as a result of the OPC. There are reasons to doubt that any such benefits will develop. Review of the site chosen by President Obama himself, close to the University of Chicago and the Museum of Science and Industry, shows a dearth of adjacent open land on which restaurants or shops could be constructed. Had President Obama chosen to locate the OPC close to 63rd Street or on the west edge of Washington Park, available adjacent open land within walking distance could well have become prime development sites. As it is, there are concerns that the OPC will have the same de minimus impact on the neighborhood as the Museum of Science Industry: people drive in and park, view exhibits, buy some food and souvenirs, get in their cars, and leave.

Plans for the building and site

Less attention has been given to the Obama Foundation’s plans for the buildings and site, thought by many to be inappropriate for an historic public park. At the personal behest of former President Obama, his Obama Museum building will be 235’ high, the equivalent of 23 stories. The site will be clear-cut, taking out close to 400 trees, the vast majority of which are mature and healthy according to the professional inventory the Obama Foundation itself commissioned. Replacement trees will be provided, but it will take decades for them to provide the same benefits as those that will be destroyed. The Olmsted-designed berms too will be leveled, and in its place there will be a Maggie-Daley-style park; all traces of the current park with its open spaces and natural character will be gone.

★Golf course resurrected?

After languishing for months, the proposal for the merged/expanded PGA style golf course originally promoted by Mayor Emanuel and Park District CEO Mike Kelly with encouragement from former President Obama suddenly appeared on the Park District Board meeting agenda on December 12. It took the form of a proposal, passed without discussion or dissent, to “modify” a much smaller prior contract with Smithgroup JJR to a new total of $3.9 million for further design work on the proposed remake of the existing golf courses.

Follow up discussion with a key Park District Board staff member emphasized that this new contract is for design only and that there is no funding to actually redo the golf courses or related projects. This appears to JPW to be a part of the not-so-lame-duck Mayor Emanuel’s attempt to lock in as many of his plans as possible even as he is about to leave office. Note that Park District CEO Mike Kelly and the Park District Commissioners are appointed by the Mayor and are not accountable to the public.

★Must read: FOTP State of the Parks 2018  

At that same December 12 Park District Board meeting, Friends of the Park’s Executive Director Juanita Irizarry described the highlights of the FOTP’s just-released State of the Parks 2018 report. (Coverage in Crain’s and the Sun-Times) Based largely on data provided by the Park District itself, and echoing complaints of disparate treatment often heard on Chicago’s South Side, the report documents park disparities based on local residents’ income and color in a wide variety of areas, including programming, safety, facilities, budgets, capital projects, and maintenance. If the indignant reactions of Park District CEO Kelly, Board president Jesse Ruiz, and vice-president Avis Lavell are any gauge, the report seems to have hit home. We encourage everyone to read the executive summary if not the full report.

★2019 will be eventful – with your help, we will carry on!

You may want to remember JPW in your-end-of-year giving. Contributions to JPW are tax deductible.

Long-time JPW participants will remember that JPW started back in early 2016 with questions about the Project 120 proposals to build a pavilion and outdoor music venue in Jackson Park near the “music court.” Now – amazingly – we are entering into our fourth year.

Your tax-deductible financial support helps us obtain the professional expertise we need to continue to raise essential questions and help ensure that the public’s interest in historic Jackson Park is protected.   Checks made out to Jackson Park Watch 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 – November 20, 2018

Greetings, all.

First of all, Happy Thanksgiving. We give thanks for family, friends, and neighbors and the many things that enrich our lives and bring us pleasure. On this Thanksgiving day we can also give special thanks for all of the natural beauty we enjoy in and around Jackson Park – the Park itself, the Wooded Island, Bobolink Meadow, Jackson Bark, the Nature Sanctuary at the South Shore Cultural Center, the mature trees on the designated Obama Presidential Center site, the Perennial Garden, the playing fields, and all the open natural spaces that we cherish. Please join in.

Jackson Park Watch website expanded and improved

We have just finished a major update of the Jackson Park Watch website. You can find it at (www.jacksonparkwatch.org). Among other things, it now includes:

  • the latest information on the federal reviews and what comes next;
  • details on the Mayor’s Obama Presidential Center Ordinance passed 10/31 and what it does and doesn’t accomplish;
  • answers to the question of what has to happen before construction of the OPC can begin including the latest on the Protect Our Park lawsuit;
  • information about the taxpayer-funded subsidies for OPC.

We want to flag this improved website in the event that you want to review the latest information or want to share it with friends, neighbors, organizations you belong to, or anyone who has been following the OPC saga.  As we all know, this saga is NOT over!

Emanuel’s Legacy: Disregard of public parks

Although now officially a lame duck, Mayor Emanuel is continuing to prioritize private interests over public parks. The City’s actions vis-à-vis the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park continue as current Exhibit Number One. A new example is his administration’s refusal to support community demands for significant new public parkland as a part of the massive Lincoln Yards development proposed for the North Branch of the Chicago River. The Mayor’s disregard for parks has even drawn an editorial rebuke in the Tribune. One hopes the candidates seeking to succeed him will take note.

Also in the news

The Obama Community Benefits Agreement Coalition continues its spirited and determined push for an agreement that will address concerns about residential displacement and jobs. Its recent protests drew wide coverage including by the Sun-Times and Hyde Park Herald.

At a recent meeting of the 1Woodlawn community organization, reported in the Herald, Dr. Byron T. Brazier, its convener and pastor of the Apostolic Church of God, discussed plans for development in Woodlawn, stating that 1Woodlawn’s efforts will continue whether or not the OPC comes to Jackson Park. Beyond assertions of massive OPC-related economic benefits, neither the Obama Foundation nor its spin-off Emerald South have publicized specific development plans for the area to date.

A recent Letter to the Editor in the Tribune raised the possibility of a compromise to move the Obama Presidential Center forward. As many have observed, if the Obama Foundation had picked a different site (or just limited its design to its original site), construction could be well underway. Is anyone listening?

Another letter to the Tribune noted the irony of public funds being used to support roadwork for the OPC while the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield goes wanting.


We previously reported on the October 31 City Council meeting where the Mayor’s ordinances authorizing land and road changes in Jackson Park for the OPC were adopted. We think you might enjoy the Reader’s coverage of that session, which captures the full flavor of the Council’s Halloween charade: “[T]he mayor announced that it was time to turn the council’s attention to the Obama Center, ‘the only presidential library with a public library inside of it’. Whereupon—like a bolt of lightning on a dark and stormy night—rules were suspended, a roll-call vote was taken, and both OPC ordinances were resoundingly passed, 48 to zero.” Read on.

This saga is not over!

As noted above, although the City Ordinance has now passed, the federal reviews of the proposed OPC and related road changes are far from over. Your tax-deductible financial support helps us obtain the professional expertise we need to continue to raise essential questions and ensure that the public interest is served.   Checks made out to Jackson Park Watch 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