Jackson Park Watch “Community Conversations” Update June 22, 2017

Greetings, all,

IF YOU WEREN’T AT LAST NIGHT’S “COMMUNITY CONVERSATIONS” MEETING, PLEASE PLAN TO ATTEND ONE OF THOSE REMAINING:  SATURDAY, 10 AM – NOON, HYDE PARK ACADEMY; TUESDAY, 6/27, 6 – 8 LA RABIDA.  ASK FOR ACTUAL DATA, COST PROJECTIONS, TIMELINES, AND WHO WILL PAY SO THAT COMMUNITY MEMBERS CAN MAKE INFORMED DECISIONS.

Facts and information on costs and feasibility were noticeably absent in last night’s “Community conversations” meeting, the first of three in what appears to be a series of community “conversation” meetings in coming months.  Instead, the meeting featured a conflicting array of presentations:

First, a welcoming tone by Deputy Mayor Andrea Zopp and Park District Vice-President Avis LaVelle, saying that community input is needed, that nothing is yet fully decided, and that they need to hear from us all.

Next, a golf course “concept” plan enthusiastically presented by Beau Welling, the golf course designer with whom Tiger Woods works, that expands the existing golf courses footprint, takes out the natural area to the southeast of the South Shore Cultural Center, and not only keeps the golf course driving range but expands it, all the while offering no information about funding or timelines.  Noteworthy points include:

  1. with all games slanted to begin and end at a new pavilion on Cornell and Hayes, the project will have little beneficial economic impact on South Shore’s main commercial corridor, and
  2. despite repeated assurances until yesterday that the nature sanctuary east of the South Shore Cultural Center beach would not be affected, the plan shows it as the site of a new hole featured in the presentation and touted as a key lure for major tournaments.

The following presentation about the Obama Presidential Center by V.P. for Civic Engagement Michael Strautmanis  combined south side boosterism with a crowd-pleasing appeal to all who love the Obamas, but didn’t tell us anything new about OPC plans and hid until the end the fact that OPC plans as they now stand require closing Cornell Drive between 59th and 63rd.

Finally, there was a bland presentation by CDOT commissioner Rebecca Scheinfeld of all of the roads closure and ”improvements” that would be required to realize the “visions” of the OPC and golf course promoters, again without data, costs, or timelines, including:

proposed closures:

  • Cornell Drive 59th to Hayes
  • Midway EB between Stony Island and Cornell
  • NB Cornell Drive from 67th to 65th  
  • Marquette from Stony Island to Richards

proposed “improvements “:

  • improve LSD to Hayes
  • improve interchanges at 63rd (Hayes) & LSD; 63rd & Richards; 63rd & Cornell
  • reconfigure traffic flow & safety where the Midway meets Stony Island
  • improve Stony Island (presumably between 60th and 67th)
  • convert Cornell south of 65th to two-way.

The complete absence of any reference to traffic studies, costs, or feasibility was remarkable.  More importantly, the fact that one of Scheinfeld’s stated goals was “to lessen the impacts on commute times due to the closure or Cornell and Marquette” rather than to investigate the feasibility of closing Cornell and Marquette suggests that CDOT may be compromised and its credibility in doubt. We hope instead to see the data that she seemed to indicate would be forthcoming at some point.

Concluding comments:

The turnout at the meeting was huge, and that was great.  The “listening” sessions at the end of these presentations left something to be desired in terms of the individually facilitated small groups JPW had been told would be there, but nonetheless did allow some chances for individuals to comment.  JPW attempts to accurately summarize the comments in these somewhat random sessions indicate support for the OPC and a desire to help it succeed; major skepticism about the golf course initiative; and extremely serious broad-based concerns about the massive road-closure and reconfigurations presented as if they were a “done deal,” (soothing words from Andrea Zopp and Azis Lavelle at the begining of the meeting notwithstanding), let along questions of exactly who would be paying for all of this major road work.

All in all, JPW urges everyone to attend one of the remaining sessions to ask for real data, information about costs and who will pay them, and workable time lines.  While joining with others in welcoming OPC into our neighborhood, we know that projects as substantial and far-reaching as these of necessity have untold numbers of details that need fine-tuning, and that community input is essential to getting it right.  We want to be certain that traffic and parking arrangements, in particular, ensure that would-be visitors to the OPC and would-be golfers at any newly configured courses (let alone neighborhood residents, those who work in the area, and regular commuters) are not deterred because of massive traffic jams.

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid
jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com
www.JacksonParkWatch.org
www.facebook.com/jacksonparkwatch

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Jackson Park Watch Update – June 16, 2017

JACKSON PARK WATCH UPDATE – June 16, 2017

Greetings, all,

BREAKING NEWS: On Wednesday, June 14, the Park District and the City announced the beginning of a series of “community conversations” about the future of Jackson Park and South Shore, a welcome albeit belated nod to the importance of the community. Both the Obama Foundation and CDOT will also be involved.

IMMEDIATE CONCERNS: The fact that the first three meetings have been scheduled on very short notice for next week does not bode well, nor does the absence of information about the process or provisions for community concerns to be taken seriously. At the June 14 Park District board meeting, JPW criticized the woefully inadequate advance notice and the absence of information about the structure of the meetings, and issued its own criteria for what a legitimate community input process should look like (see Comprehensive planning for Jackson Park below for that list).

INTERESTING ASIDES: In a private side conversation, we were told that those planning these events envision breakout discussions and feedback at each meeting, and that there will then be a further series of meetings over the next couple of months , each with new information as it becomes available. But there has been no public announcement of these plans so far, so we shall see.

TURNOUT VITAL: This is a critical chance to make community voices heard! All concerned community members should come to one or more of the meetings to hear what is said, raise their questions and concerns, and build momentum for the next round of meetings later in the summer. The greater the participation, the strong the community voice! There are many, many reasons for reasons for skepticism, but the fact remains that if we do not turn out for these meetings to pose our questions and express our anger, all of these plans WILL be a done deal
#1 Wednesday, June 21, South Shore Cultural Center, 6 – 8 p.m.
#2 Saturday, June 24, Hyde Park High School, 10 am – 12 noon
#3 Tuesday, June 27, La Rabida, 6-8 pm, at Alderman Hairston’s ward meeting

IMPORTANT: please share this Update widely with friends, family, neighbors, associates, and anyone who may be or should be interested!

To help prepare for these meetings, we want to share what we’ve been hearing about some key issues:

  • Plans for the Obama Presidential Center, including the underground parking garage on the Midway and the closure of Cornell Drive envisioned by President Obama;
  • plans for the golf course “transformation”;
  • the status of Project 120’s proposed visitors pavilion/outdoor music venue.

Obama Presidential Center

As time has passed without more information about President Obama’s proposals for the OPC, community anxieties and grumblings have increased. New attention is being paid to “site creep” issues, fueled by the soil borings on the Midway space identified by Obama as his hoped-for underground parking garage (not to be paid for by the Obama Foundation). Nothing certain is known about future parking garage plans as yet.

The proposed Cornell Drive closure continues to cause consternation as people try to envision alternate traffic arrangements and raise safety concerns, especially related to the young children (and accompanying adults) at neighboring schools, the students at Hyde Park Academy and University students and staff. Fearing a worsening of an already difficult situation, other voices are raising concerns about the southbound rush hour traffic that already exits LSD at 53rd (or sooner) and travels over small, residential streets. Reports indicate that the Obama Foundation – or CDOT, or IDOT – is conducting traffic studies.

The golf course “transformation” project

Public release of the report of the engineering study related to the golf course redesign continues to be pushed back. Once slated for the end of March, the latest hoped-for release date is now early July.

Various reports suggest that the total costs of infrastructure requirements uncovered during the engineering study plus the golf course work itself may be substantially more than anticipated. There are signs that golf course plans are in part contingent on decisions concerning the OPC and Cornell Drive.

Pavilion/music venue “not going to happen”

JPW has heard repeatedly that the Project 120 proposal for a pavilion with an outdoor music venue was on the “back burner.” When asked about the proposal at a recent meeting, Alderman Hairston said “Project 120 is not going to happen.” This is good news! JPW will continue to monitor the situation to ensure that this particular phoenix does not rise from the ashes.

Comprehensive planning for Jackson Park

As noted, the Park District and City have called for “community conversations” about the future of Jackson Park and South Shore. Understandably, there is considerable community skepticism about whether this will be a legitimate process or instead will be a sham, a cover for approval of plans already made. Here is what JPW had to say at the June 14 meeting of the Park District Board.

Here are some elements we believe to be necessary for an effective public process:

  • It must start with a public acknowledgement by the Park District and the other entities that some of the plans developed to date may need to be changed in response to community concerns.
  • It must include multiple public meetings, in a variety of venues, publicized well in advance of the meeting dates, open to all of the members of the relevant communities, with opportunities for community stakeholders to comment on the proposed changes and to identify and advocate for priority needs left unmet (e.g., a new Jackson Park fieldhouse, repairs to bike and pedestrian paths with potholes).
  • It must include responses to those comments, questions, and concerns.
  • It must provide systematic presentations about the various projects separately as well as a vision of how the projects will fit together and be integrated into the park as a whole.
  • It must include discussion of how these projects will impact the communities around the park with regard to such issues as traffic patterns, congestion, parking, and noise.
  • It must provide credible information about sources of funding, including the costs to taxpayers, as well as realistic time lines.
  • Given that there are several significant entities involved, it must provide clarity about who is in charge of realizing the integrated vision for Jackson Park. Who is accountable? Is it the Park District? the City?

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid
jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com
www.JacksonParkWatch.org
www.facebook.com/jacksonparkwatch

Jackson Park Watch Update – May 13, 2017

JACKSON PARK WATCH UPDATE – May 13, 2017
Greetings, all,

JPW has attended many meetings over the past few weeks. There has also been much coverage of the Obama Presidential Center and the golf course re-do in the media. We want to share what we think are the most important revelations, issues, unanswered questions, and opportunities for action, but will do so in two parts: Part #1, for those with little time to spare at the moment; and Part #2, for those with the time to read the detail.

PART #1. THE NO-TIME-TO-SPARE VERSION:

Progress and questions: The vision for the Obama Presidential Center described by President Obama on May 3 has many positive features but raises key questions, especially concerning the ideas of closing Cornell Drive between 59th and 63rd (where would that traffic go? who would pay?), of putting an underground parking garage topped with a plaza at the east end of the Midway between the Metra and Stony Island (again, who would pay?), and of situating large-scale outdoor arenas directly across from the tranquil natural areas of Wooded Island (could there be a buffer zone?). At the same time, backers of the proposed golf course “transformation” project say it requires closing Marquette Road, while the planning for the project itself has run into serious problems with worse than anticipated shoreline erosion and costly engineering challenges.

Comprehensive plan urgently needed: How can it be that these two proposals for such major changes to Jackson Park are proceeding on the same time line, but otherwise entirely separately. Coordination and community input are urgently needed, starting with addressing their impact on the character of the park and on traffic and parking. JPW continues to ask both the Park District and the Obama Foundation to establish an inclusive, transparent process that would give the community a significant voice in defining a common vision and comprehensive plan for Jackson Park.

What you can do: You can support that call by sending a message to:

Possible message: “The ambitious plans for the Obama Presidential Center and golf course transformation require not only coordination but an overall vision for Jackson Park. Please join with (insert either “the Chicago Park District” or “the Obama Foundation” as appropriate) to establish such a process, and ensure that the community has significant input.”

Part #2. THE A-BIT-MORE-TIME-TO-READ VERSION:

Obama Presidential Center

JPW was at the event on May 3 when President Obama described his vision for his Presidential Center (OPC). The label is important: this will not be a library in the usual sense, and no presidential documents or artifacts will be stored there; it will remain in private hands after construction rather than being turned over to the federal government. Instead, the physical records will be stored elsewhere in an existing government facility and documents will be digitized for immediate and easy on-line access. JPW salutes the Obamas for this innovation, and similarly applauds their stated intention for the OPC to focus on programming to train civic leaders and promote community interaction.

JPW was also at the May 10 meeting, another invitation-only event, where approximately 75 people heard presentations from the team of landscape architects concerning their current plans for the site and solicited input from those in attendance.

Not surprisingly, the scope and ambition of these plans give rise to major questions. Here are some significant issues that need to be addressed:

1)  The Obama Presidential Center proposal shifts the footprint of the Center northward and eastward of the original space defined for its placement in the City Ordinance of 1-21-15, which specified the area between 60th and 63rd, Stony Island Avenue and Cornell Drive.  This appears to increase the park acreage given over to the OPC as well as redefining its exact location. Will City Council have to vote on a revised ordinance?

2) The closure of Cornell Drive between 59th and 63rd Streets is central to this initial design. Traffic studies of the feasibility and impact of this closure are reportedly underway, but plans for rerouting of the traffic currently using Cornell onto Stony Island or elsewhere are not yet publicly available.

  • According to some estimates, the closure of Cornell would add approximately five acres of green space to the Park. Would this be presented as all or part of the “nearby replacement green space” that the City promised to provide in the 1-21-15 ordinance?   Is the amount of replacement green space that was promised five acres or twenty or more?
  • How many acres of parkland would it take to provide new traffic exchanges or alternate routes? What would the net impact on park acreage actually be?
  • What would be the cost and who would pay for the work associated with the closure and rerouting?

3) A proposed underground parking garage – to be situated between the Metra and Stony at the east end of the Midway and topped with an outdoor plaza and walkways – was highlighted by the landscape architects at the May 10 event as providing good access to the OPC and good views over Jackson Park. However, President Obama specified on May 3 that the Obama Foundation would not be paying for construction of this structure, raising another question about the financing of the ambitious OPC proposal as well as how parking would otherwise be provided.

4) The OPC design includes a children’s play area, sledding hill and a large lawn area. These areas might have the latest in play equipment, climbing walls, and the like and would, according to the landscape architects, provide space for large public events such as concerts and movies. Those attractions could draw families to the OPC.  At the same time, many in the community value the current open and green nature of the portion of the Park that lies east of the OPC site and wish to preserve as much of that natural landscape as possible.  In order to protect those natural spaces, would the parkland freed up by the removal of Cornell Drive (if that occurs) function as a protective transition zone between the Millennium Park-type activities of the OPC and the adjacent nature zone of Wooded Island and Bobolink Meadow?

5) We note that the proposed design shifts the existing track and athletic field south toward 63rd Street, still across from Hyde Park Academy High School, thus helping the City fulfill its commitment to the community to relocate and rebuild that much-used facility. The OPC design also includes a “Proposed Athletic Center” adjacent to the relocated field. How does this relate to the existing fieldhouse? Would it replace it? Compete with it? Would the Obama Foundation finance this facility totally or in part?

6) What process will the Obama Foundation establish to ensure robust community input on the OPC plans announced so far and as they continue to evolve? The opportunity to comment on a website is fine, but is far from sufficient. Similarly, invitation-only events offer selected members of the community opportunities for input, but this too is far from sufficient.
Golf Courses Transformation
Work on this project has slowed. Recent articles in the Sun-Times and DNAInfo have reported that the $1.1 engineering study undertaken by the Park District has revealed problems with lakefront erosion along the South Shore golf course and further north that are more serious than expected and will be more costly to repair than anticipated. This work will be in addition to the underpass under South Shore Drive that would be necessary to connect the two golf courses. Park District CEO Mike Kelly has said that fundraising efforts for the golf course re-do are now being delayed until the full extent of the needed infrastructure work can be determined and federal or state money secured to pay for that work.

At the same time, the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance (CPGA) has confirmed that it wants to have Marquette Drive closed between Cornell and Richards Drives in order to accommodate the newly configured golf course. It has also mentioned the possibility of constructing a bridge over Jeffrey (rather than an underpass) to connect the Jackson Park segments of the course. The cost of both of these alterations would fall to the Park District, that is, to Chicago taxpayers. CPGA has also responded to concern about congestion caused by the hoped-for thousands of spectators at the proposed PGA tournaments, explaining that, as is typical for PGA tournaments, attendees at any PGA tournament in Jackson Park would park in remote lots (e.g., Soldier Field) and would be bussed to and from the course. Such an arrangement would avoid some traffic problems, but would likely dramatically limit the hoped-for beneficial economic impact of such tournaments on the immediate neighborhood.

In spite of the project delays, CPGA has already been actively launching new youth golf programs. JPW hopes that CPGA would sustain and expand such positive programming regardless of the final determination about the feasibility of the construction project.

What is the community’s vision for Jackson Park in the 21st century?

The wide-ranging changes proposed, separately and without any coordination, by the Obama Foundation and the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance/Chicago Park District, would certainly “transform” Jackson Park, but as yet there has been no opportunity for the community to express its views about these projects and the future of the Park. There have been Obama Foundation events and CPGA events, each eliciting feedback or support from selected groups, but there has been no forum that considers Jackson Park as a whole, that articulates a common vision for the future, or that is open to the community as a whole. JPW has continued to urge the Park District and the Obama Foundation to establish an inclusive process to define a comprehensive plan for Jackson Park in partnership with the community.

You can support that call and express your opinions by writing to:

Possible message: “The ambitious plans for the Obama Presidential Center and golf course transformation require not only coordination but an overall vision for Jackson Park. Please join with (insert either “the Chicago Park District” or “the Obama Foundation” as appropriate) to establish such a process, and ensure that the community has significant input.”

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid

Jackson Park Watch

http://jacksonparkwatch.org/

Like us on facebook.com/jacksonparkwatch

 

Jackson Park Watch Update -April 2, 2017

Greetings all,

IN THIS UPDATE: 

·         Still waiting for community input opportunities for the Obama Presidential Center and golf course “transformation”

·         Actual new information on the Darrow Bridge reconstruction

·         That new economic development corporation

·         Shared concerns

Obama Foundation plans for community input still unclear

Although several public events have taken place, no opportunities or plans for meaningful community input have materialized as yet.  Further, at the March 28 invitation-only event billed as a “community meet-and-greet reception” for the Obama Presidential Center architects, Obama Foundation V.P. for Civic Engagement Michael Strautmanis signaled an even longer wait for actual information on plans, saying “the president is still exploring ideas.” For more, check the Tribune article by architecture critic Blair Kamin (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/obamalibrary/ct-obama-library-kamin-met-0328-20170328-story.html).

 Golf course “transformation” timeline uncertain

 There is also no news about the proposed golf course re-design. At the March 18 meeting of Alderman Hairston’s Jackson Park/South Shore Golf and Community Leadership/Advisory Council, representatives of the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance (CPGA) reported that the engineering study by SmithGroupJJR, which is behind schedule, may be completed by the end of March.  The golf course design firm, TGR Design, will then adjust its initial ideas (never revealed to the public) to fit the engineering data and produce a conceptual design.  At that point – presumably late April – the Park District and the Alderman will, we hope, organize a public meeting to present the design to the community. Obviously, more than one meeting will be needed.  Information on related impacts such as traffic and parking will also be required in order for the community to fully assess the proposal.

On a related point, a March 8 Sun-Times report, quoting CPGA principal Michael Ruemmler extensively, revealed that fund-raising for the golf course project is lagging, but that Ruemmler expects it will accelerate once the design is revealed (see http://chicago.suntimes.com/news/fundraising-slows-for-jackson-parksouth-shore-golf-course-merger/).

 Actual news on the Darrow Bridge!

 In contrast, there was actual and positive news about the reconstruction of the Darrow Bridge at Alderman Hairston’s 5th ward meeting on March 28.  CDOT Assistant Chief Engineer-Bridges Luis Benitez reported that Phase One, engineering, is now underway and should be complete within the year.  Phase Two, design, will follow and should take no more than a year.  Phase Three, construction, will then start in 2019.  Funding is on hand, and the project is expected to be completed.

Benitez said that this presentation was the first of several.  JPW will share any information it has about future meetings about this project.

 That new neighborhood economic development corporation

As noted in the March 13 JPW Update, plans for a new economic development corporation for Woodlawn, Washington Park, and South Shore are underway, fueled by start-up funding from the Chicago Community Trust.  Members of the initial board are expected to be representatives from  the University of Chicago, the City, the Obama Foundation, the Washington Park Consortium, the Network of Woodlawn, and South Shore Works, as well as other community members to be selected through an open application process.   (See www.wwpss.org for information.)  JPW is not involved in on-going discussions about this issue, but we are paying attention to the potential impacts on Jackson Park itself. We note that some concerns about transparency and benefits to the broader community have been raised.

Shared concerns:  Friends of the Parks Open Letter on Jackson Park

 Many of you may have read the Open Letter on Jackson Park from Juanita Irizarry, Executive Director of Friends of the Parks, which appeared in the March 22 issue of the Hyde Park Herald.  Unfortunately the Herald did not have the space to print the full statement, which is available on the FOTP website (https://fotp.org/issues/policy/obama-presidential-library-2/ ).  This is a thoughtful account that puts the ambitious but unconnected proposals of the last two years in context and makes a commonsensical call for comprehensive planning instead of piecemeal change.  We recommend it for your review.

Shared concerns: Keep Grant Green

We have heard from leaders of Keep Grant Green, a downtown community group formed in response to concerns that ever-increasing use of Grant Park for commercial and tourist activities has limited green space and precluded use of the park by local residents.    Like Jackson Park, Grant Park is also both a neighborhood and a regional park, but there the scale has been tipped in the direction of tourism and revenue-generating uses. It is an object lesson for what we do not want to happen to Jackson Park.    You can explore the website and Facebook page that outline their concerns at  http://keepgrantgreen.com/  and  https://m.facebook.com/keepgrantgreen.

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid

Jackson Park Watch
http://jacksonparkwatch.org/
Like us on our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/jacksonparkwatch

Jackson Park Watch Update – March 6, 2017

Greetings all,

More join in the call for a transparent and comprehensive planning process for Jackson Park, a process grounded in robust community input.  See What can you do? (below) to keep the momentum rolling.

The end of the month brought two promising developments:

Alderman Hairston steps up:  At her monthly 5th Ward meeting on February 28, Alderman Leslie Hairston spoke of her hopes and intentions for the Jackson Park/South Shore Golf and Community/Leadership Advisory Council that she has recently formed.  Hairston reaffirmed her recent statement to the Obama Foundation, stressing that there has to be comprehensive and coordinated planning for Jackson Park as a whole.  According to Hairston, the Advisory Council will serve as two-way conduit of information between her and neighborhood residents regarding all of the many changes being proposed for Jackson Park and the South Shore Cultural Center.  The council’s first session last week featured a general discussion, and the only substantive news was that the Park District’s consultant is behind schedule in preparing a preliminary design for the golf course. We will report to you as the Advisory Council’s work becomes clearer.  There may be opportunities for you to join in the process through topical subcommittees.

Preservation Chicago sounds the alarm:  Jackson Park and the South Shore Cultural Center have been put on Preservation Chicago’s 2017 list of the most endangered sites in Chicago.  Recounting the important legacy of these parks and the threats to them represented by private-interest groups with no public accountability, Preservation Chicago aims to provide a preservation-oriented voice in the conversation about the future of the parks. We urge you to read the full statement on-line.  We applaud the assessment of the issue by Preservation Chicago and welcome its valuable input.

Where is the Park District?  What about the Obama Foundation? These important new actions are supported by the repeated calls by Friends of the Parks for comprehensive planning, by the Jackson Park Advisory Council’s newly-established  and soon-to-meet coordinating committee,  by the ongoing discussions led by Dr. Byron Brazier about Woodlawn’s aims for Jackson Park, and by parallel conversations in South Shore and Washington Park.   Yet to date the Park District and the Obama Foundation, the two 800-pound gorillas in the game, are on the sidelines or watching from behind the curtain.

What can you do?  E-mail Obama Foundation’s Vice President for Civic Engagement Michael Strautmanis (mstrautmanis@obamapresidentialfoundation.org.  Send your message to Park District CEO Michael Kelly (michael.kelly@chicagoparkdistrict.com) and Park District Board President Jesse Ruiz (Jesse.Ruiz@dbr.com).  Ask them to step up, engage the Jackson Park community, and join the conversation about comprehensive planning for the future of the park.

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid

Jackson Park Watch
http://jacksonparkwatch.org/
Like us on our Facebook page

 

Jackson Park Watch Update – February 19, 2017

Greetings all,

Good news! Others are joining JPW and Friends of the Parks to demand development of a coordinated, comprehensive plan for the future of all of Jackson Park. We note two recent developments of particular importance:

The Jackson Park Advisory Council, at its February 13 meeting, voted to establish a coordinating committee to consider two current major initiatives – the Obama Library and the golf course renovation. The committee will include representatives from the Park District, the Obama Foundation, the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance,  Chicago Department of Transportation, Alderman Hairston’s 5th Ward Office, JPAC, and Jackson Park Watch.   While this cannot be a substitute for a well-resourced, staffed and open community input process, we welcome this action and look forward to participating in the discussions.

On February 15, Alderman Hairston issued an open letter to the Obama Presidential Center calling upon the Obama Foundation to actively engage the community in discussions about its evolving plans.  Hairston called particular attention to the need to coordinate planning for the OPC and for the proposed renovated golf course:  “They should be planned together.  They are both part of Jackson Park and residents would like to have a comprehensive picture of how transportation, park use, and recreation will be addressed.”    The Alderman’s statement was covered also in the Tribune and DNAInfo.  You may want to thank Alderman Hairston and offer additional comments at ward05@cityofchicago.org.

We applaud both of these steps and hope they that lead to a planning process for Jackson Park that is both more transparent and fully open to broad community review and input.

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid

Jackson Park Watch
http://jacksonparkwatch.org
Like us on our Facebook page.

JACKSON PARK WATCH UPDATE – February 6, 2017

Greetings all,

This is a crazy time. JPW coordinators share the angst, but we are keeping on.  You can help by submitting comments or questions to both the Park District and the Obama Foundation – see *** below.

Now: the road closure proposal

Proposals to slice and dice Jackson Park into disjointed pieces keep coming fast and furious! The latest is the Obama Foundation idea – just recently “floated” although it has been out there for several years – of closing Cornell Drive between 60th and 67th (see http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/obamalibrary/ct-obama-library-roadways-met-20170127-story.html). Again we see a proposal put out there by one special interest without full information or attention to park-wide traffic circulation issues, a proposal that raises a host of questions:

  • While many would love to see more parkland, just what would happen to all that traffic?
  • How about a traffic study that is publicly released? (JPW knows that a study was done by the University and given to the Obama Foundation a couple of years ago, but has been unable to secure a copy.)
  • What would it cost us, the taxpayers?
  • Where is the plan for community input?
  • Where is the comprehensive plan for Jackson Park as a whole that is necessary to put such a proposal into perspective and context?

In today’s DNAInfo (see link below), Alderman Leslie Hairston expressed major concerns about the impact of the proposed road closure on traffic through Jackson Park. Even more importantly, to quote the article:

Hairston has expressed concerns in the past that the large number of projects planned for Jackson Park are too siloed and progressing without enough attention on how they will all interact with each other. “I would like to look at the totality,” Hairston said.

As calls for an overall plan for the whole of Jackson Park gain traction, this is great news. Please take time to thank Hairston at ward05@cityofchicago.org.

https://www.dnainfo.com/chicago/20170206/woodlawn/jackson-park-obama-library-cornell-drive-road-closure-skyway-shortcut-ald-leslie-hairston

Meeting with the Obama Foundation

JPW coordinators Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid recently met with Obama Foundation V.P. for civic engagement Michael Strautmanis and posed questions about the road closure idea. They also urged the Obama Foundation leadership to:

  • launch a community engagement process to review and comment on plans for the Obama Library building(s) and landscaping while they are being developed, not after,
  • take an active and public role in the search for a suitable new location for the athletic field that it is displacing, and
  • work with the Park District on an overall plan for the entire park before it is hopelessly segmented.

In response, Strautmanis stated that the Obama Foundation will move quickly to hold public discussions with community groups about the development of the designs for the Obama Presidential Center with the goal of having final designs by the end of 2017. However, he could not yet announce a specific schedule of meetings or the groups to be invited. Strautmanis also expressed the Foundation’s strong interest in and commitment to working with the Park District and the community to develop a comprehensive plan for Jackson Park that would both preserve and enhance the park for local users and accommodate visitors to the Obama Presidential Center.

***Strautmanis also emphasized that the Obama Foundation is seeking comments on what it should do as it launches a program focused on citizenship. One obvious answer is to begin by working at the local level. JPW encourages submission of comments encouraging the Obama Foundation to be a model of community engagement by working with the Park District – and pushing it if needed – to ensure substantive community input on all of the many plans now afloat to make massive changes in historic Jackson Park. Comments (and questions) can be submitted at https://www.obama.org/your-voice/.

More on the golf course

As the SmithGroupJJR engineering study of the South Shore and Jackson Park golf courses proceeds, more intriguing details surface. For example, costs: in a recent article (http://chicago.suntimes.com/politics/former-emanuel-aide-out-of-the-shadows-on-golf-project/), it was estimated that the underpass at 67th and South Shore Drive could cost at least $11m. Where is that money coming from?

More information on the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance is essential. JPW coordinators Nelms and Schmid will shortly meet with Brian Hogan, one of the members of the CPGA board of directors and its publicist, and will share what they learn.

On the positive side, Alderman Leslie Hairston has invited Jackson Park Watch to participate in the golf course advisory group she is setting up. Brenda Nelms will be representing JPW and keeping us informed.

***Also on the mildly positive side: In addition to the initial Q&A that it prepared in mid-January, the Park District has now posted on its website homepage a button for submitting “comments, concerns, or questions” about the golf course proposal (http://www.chicagoparkdistrict.com/ – scroll down and look on the left hand side). JPW has asked whether the comments will be answered privately or made public, and has not received any answer to date. Nonetheless, JPW encourages everyone to submit comments and questions as events warrant.

Speaking of comments:

We know that some people encountered difficulties utilizing the link to the Friends of the Parks survey form in a recent JPW Update. If you haven’t been able to fill out their survey, we encourage you to try again here (http://tinyurl.com/gmxdflg).

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid
Coordinators, Jackson Park Watch
http://jacksonparkwatch.org
Like us on our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/jacksonparkwatch

 

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Jackson Park Watch Update – January 14, 2017

Greetings all,

JPW Issues in the spotlight

Transparency!  Community input on major decisions!  Priority in Jackson Park for local uses and local users!   These issues, first defined by JPW with regard to Project 120’s plans, have now taken front and center stage as pushback against the Chicago Park District’s plan to for an elite golf course in Jackson Park and South Shore grows.  A partial survey of recent print media shows the JPW concerns are widespread:

Yesterday’s 01/13/17 Tribune editorial takes up the issue, with a headline asserting “Big plans on the South Side for a Tiger Woods Course can’t shut out locals.”  The editorial raises major concerns about backroom decision-making, the lack of community input, and potential adverse impacts on local park uses and park users.  Read the full editorial at:

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/editorials/ct-golf-jackson-park-tiger-woods-edit-1113-md-20170112-story.html

A Tribune article (01/12/17) highlighted the contradiction between Park District assertions that the plan was “not a done deal” and the Park Board’s decision the day before to move ahead with a contract to start on the project.  Read the article at http://www.chicagotribune.com/sports/golf/ct-jackson-park-golf-course-begins-met-20170111-story.html.

A Sun-Times article (01/10/17) highlighted a call by Friends of the Parks Executive Director Juanita Irizarry for the Park District board to call off a vote for the contract starting work.  Read the article at http://chicago.suntimes.com/news/park-board-urged-to-call-off-vote-on-golf-course-contract/

There have been multiple articles in the Hyde Park Herald and DNAInfo as well as in other sources.  An interview with JPW’s Margaret Schmid aired on Chicago Tonight on 01/11/17, and the controversy was included in last night’s Chicago Tonight’s Week in Review.

What’s next?

Park District CEO Mike Kelly will be at Alderman Leslie Hairston’s January 24 ward meeting to talk about the golf course.  JPW and others will be urging a huge turnout.  PLEASE MAKE EVERY EFFORT TO BE THERE – NUMBERS SPEAK VOLUMES.  The meeting will be from 6 to 8 at the South Shore Fine Arts Academy, 1415 E. 70th St. There is a small parking lot off of Dorchester, to the west of the school, and there is free parking on the streets.  You will hear from us again before this meeting with more information, including, we hope, the exact time Mr. Kelly will be there.

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid
Coordinators, Jackson Park Watch
http://jacksonparkwatch.org
Like us on our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/jacksonparkwatch

To unsubscribe from this g-list, simply send “unsubscribe” to jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com.

Jackson Park Watch Update – January 2, 2017

GREETINGS ALL, AND BEST WISHES FOR 2017!

Thanks to everyone who has been with us from the beginning – January 2016 – and to all who have joined us along the way. Our message is getting out there and is having an impact. We want to keep growing the JPW network, so please share this widely, and ask your friends and neighbors to sign on to receive Jackson Park Watch Updates (they can e-mail jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com with “sign me up”).

In this Update:

  • Park District officials admit no Board vote on Sky Landing sculpture, assert none needed
  • Golf course plan revealed as private deal with, once again, no Board vote
  • “No fishing in lagoons” said to be only temporary; now sign needs revision

Sky Landing FOIA leads to surprising assertions

JPW’s latest FOIA asking about the approval process for the Sky Landing sculpture on Wooded Island yielded a Construction and Donation Agreement seemingly signed after the sculpture was installed. (Those wishing a copy of the Construction and Donation Agreement can e-mail jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com and we will send you a copy. It will be posted on the JPW website in the near future.)

When JPW’s Brenda Nelms raised questions about the apparent date discrepancy and other issues at the Dec. 14 CPD Board meeting (see 12-14-16-b-nelms-statement-to-park-district-board), she was interrupted by Park District CEO Michael Kelly and Board President Jesse Ruiz, who called upon the Park District’s general counsel Tim King, who was seated in the audience.  In response to the question from Ruiz as to whether there was anything the Board should have reviewed and voted on, King responded first that the installation was not something that CPD’s Park Enhancements Committee needed to review as it was part of the Mayor’s initiative for public art, an assertion counter to the history of the project as we know it. He further asserted that because no Park District money was involved, there was no need for the Park District board to vote on it either.  On the face of it, this seems to indicate that if someone has both an idea for a sculpture and the money to cover the costs and if Mike Kelly (or perhaps Mayor Emanuel) likes the idea, it’s a done deal.

King’s statements raise interesting issues: Are there no criteria? Is there no official vetting process for permanent art installations beyond Mike Kelly? What about a religious theme? Overtly sexual themes? Or, say, a gilded statute of a current political leader? Clearly, this is something we will pursue further.

PGA golf course process questioned

The announcement by Mayor Emanuel and Park District CEO Kelly of a $30 million plan to “upgrade” the existing and much loved Jackson Park golf course to PGA standards – again without community input or Park District Board approval – immediately raised the familiar questions of transparency and community engagement among others. (see our December 17 Jackson Park Watch Update.)

As it happens, not long after that announcement, Mayor Rahm Emanuel released 2,700 pages of official communications from his personal e-mail account in response to a lawsuit by the Better Government Association. Reviewing them, Sun-Times reporter Lynn Sweet found e-mail traffic between the Mayor and Mike Kelly, among others, discussing the golf course plan as far back as August. ( http://chicago.suntimes.com/news/sweet-rahm-emails-reveal-secret-golf-course-planning/) Jackson Park Watch was credited as a source in Sweet’s article and was also included in coverage of questions about the golf course proposal in a report on NBC 5 Chicago News. (http://www.nbcchicago.com/news/local/emanuel-emails-chicago-south-side-golf-course-408341915.html)

Much scrutiny of the proposed golf course deal as well as more review of what else might be in the Mayor’s e-mail stash are sure to follow. Stay tuned!

That new “no fishing” rule

JPW has been questioning some of the restrictions posted on Wooded Island after it was reopened to the public, in particular the rule “no fishing in the lagoons,” which is both new and seen by many as banning a long-standing local use and group of users. We have now been told by Park District official Julia Bachrach that this is not intended as a new rule and that in any event it is only temporary. We have argued that it would be in the interests of everyone concerned – including the Park District – to amend the signs to make that clear. To date the Park District has not responded, but we will continue to push for a clarification.

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid
Coordinators
Jackson Park Watch
http://jacksonparkwatch.org
Like us on our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/jacksonparkwatch

(To unsubscribe from this g-list, simply send “unsubscribe” to jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com.)

JPW Special Golf Course Update – December 17, 2016

Greetings all,

Surprise! You no doubt know by now that our Mayor and his hand-picked Park District CEO Mike Kelly have announced a surprise holiday gift to us all – the pending establishment of a public/private partnership to raise $30 million to convert the existing Jackson Park and South Shore golf courses into a single 18-hole professional championship-caliber golf course by 2020.  (see http://www.chicagotribune.com/sports/golf/ct-tiger-woods-south-side-golf-project-spt-1218-20161216-story.html; see also http://hpherald.co/2016/12/16/tiger-woods-will-lead-design-for-golf-complex-in-jackson-park/ )

Questions abound:   

  • Transparency? Although rumors about this have been floating, where was the transparent public process?
  • Community input? If this were to happen, it would have a massive impact on the park and surrounding community, especially in South Shore.  What does the community want?
  • Process? While the announcement has the air of a “done deal,” can the Mayor and his appointed Park District CEO really do anything they want in Jackson Park, as appears to have been the case with the Yoko Ono Sky Landing sculpture?  Wouldn’t this need, at the minimum, approval by the Park District Board, albeit also hand-picked by the Mayor?
  • Priorities? Mike Kelly says that the goal is to use $6m of taxpayer money.  Why should this take priority over other pressing Jackson Park needs?  A new or at least renovated field house?  Repair of broken paths?  Accessible bathrooms?  What about adverse impacts on the existing golfers, who could well be priced out, and on other uses and users in the rest of the park?
  • Environmental impact? And how about an environmental impact analysis?  Golf course construction typically means killing all existing plant material and taking the area down to bare soil.  A heavy use of pesticides and fertilizers is required to keep golf courses in championship shape.  All of these factors need to be explored, and publicly discussed.

To sum up: While not yet a certainty, this appears to be yet another step in a money-driven process of divvying up historical Jackson Park into segments without regard to the integrity of the Park, to the current, diverse local uses and users, or to the long-term impact on the community.  Instead of moving ahead, action on this project should be halted until there has been a unified, comprehensive planning process addressing the future of the entire Park, including the Obama Presidential Library – a planning process that is transparent and includes robust and substantive community engagement.

Suggestion for a good holiday gift:  Friends of the Parks has been a consistent help to JPW, giving advice, opening doors, making contacts, providing invaluable information.  FOTP Executive Director Juanita Irizarry’s comments about this golf course proposal are yet another indication of FOTP’s incisive, on-target approach to Chicago’s parks. (see http://chicago.suntimes.com/news/obama-library-in-Jackson-park-spurs-big-golf-course-redesign) To help FOTP help JPW’s work, consider making a donation to FOTP or becoming a member as you plan your holiday giving.  See https://fotp.org/.

And speaking of holidays, best wishes for a wonderful holiday season!

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid
Coordinators
Jackson Park Watch
http://jacksonparkwatch.org
Like us on our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/jacksonparkwatch

(To unsubscribe from this g-list, simply send “unsubscribe” to jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com.)