Jackson Park Watch Update – December 2, 2017

Greetings all,


·         OPC submission to Plan Commission pushed back, possible design changes to come, as Section 106 review process begins.

·         Park District schedules Open Houses for Dec. 7 and 11 on alternative recreation plans for Jackson Park – but OPC and proposed traffic changes still seen as driving Park planning.

Section 106 review process begins

On Thursday  the Sun-Times reported that the Obama Foundation would be delaying its submission to the Chicago Plan Commission for several months.  On Friday, at the kick-off meeting for the Section 106 review of the OPC and related proposals, there were signals that the Obama Foundation may be further changing its design plans:  Eleanor Gorski, Deputy Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Planning and Development and the lead facilitator of the Section 106 review process, said that she understands that the Obama Foundation may submit “refined” design plans early in 2018.  We will be on the lookout and will let you know!

The lack of clarity about schedules, designs and site footprints, and scope of the review was evident throughout the busy, two-hour meeting at the South Side Y Friday morning.  The meeting started with confusion as the organizers had apparently anticipated a much smaller group.  While those registered as consulting parties were directed to a conference room at the Y that held about 100, many others attendees were directed across the street to an overflow room at the Jackson Park Field House, where they could view the session via a video stream.   Eleanor Gorski gave a very useful PowerPoint presentation outlining both the Section 106 and the NEPA reviews, which are coordinated but separate in purpose and process.   The first step in the Section 106 review is the definition of the “area of potential effect” and the development of an inventory of historic resources in that area.   This first step, now underway, is expected to take several months, and the full Section 106 process could extend until the fall.  The NEPA review will parallel the Section 106 process, but its schedule has not yet been announced.  The HeraldTribune, and Sun-Times provide useful summaries and perspectives on the meeting.

Overall, we learned that there would be an extended review period, with many steps and meetings to be announced , but – as the question period revealed – it was not clear exactly what is to be reviewed and why the scope of the review process has been defined as it has.   Among the many questions posed (but not fully answered):

·         How can any review go forward before the OPC site footprint and its design plan are settled?

·         How can the closure of Marquette Drive and the construction of underpasses for the golf project be included in the review without also including all of the plans for the golf course merger?

·         Why is the South Shore Cultural Center not included in the area under review?

·         Why are parts of Woodlawn and Hyde Park and the entirety of Promontory Point appropriately  identified as “Areas of Potential Effect,” but areas of South Shore just south of 67th Street – including the Jackson Park Highlands historic district — not so designated?

·         In identifying historic resources in Jackson Park, should not Cornell Drive and Hayes Drive, which trace Olmsted’s design, be included, as well as his design for the natural plantings?

Also noted – with raised eyebrows — was the potential for conflict of interests.  Although the Federal Highway Administration is the lead federal agency for the overall review, the Section 106 review process is being directed by representatives of the City’s Department of Planning and Development and the Department of Transportation,  the agencies that are officially advocating for the designs that are now under review. Although we have been assured that such an arrangement is not uncommon, skepticism and unease were evident.


Park District Open Houses set for Dec. 7 and 11 — MARK YOUR CALENDARS

Thursday, December 7, AND  Monday, December 11
South Shore Cultural Center
7059 S. South Shore Drive
6:00pm – 9:00pm

With unfortunately little advance notice, the Park District has announced two open houses to consider “options for recreational and cultural park uses.”  While still claiming that the South Lakefront Framework plan is under development, the language in its news release indicates that the OPC and the attendant road closure/realignments are driving and circumscribing the park planning process – even while those plans themselves are in flux – rather than the other way around.  Nonetheless your participation and input about options for ball fields, nature areas, and golf options are important.  We urge you to attend one of the meetings and to voice your opinions of the options presented.

From the Park District press release November 30:

As part of its ongoing South Lakefront Framework Plan process that began in June, the Chicago Park District announced today that it will host another two community meetings to present and solicit community feedback on potential park uses and capital improvements to Jackson and South Shore Parks. These meetings will focus on options for the rest of the park systems, building on plans for the Obama Presidential Center and traffic mitigations that were previously presented to the public.

The meetings will be focused solely on the options for recreational and cultural park uses; no new information will be presented about the Obama Presidential Center itself or proposed transportation improvements. The meetings will be held on December 7 and December 11 at the South Shore Cultural Center, located at 7059 S. South Shore Dr., from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.


Thank you again! 

We have received generous tax-deductible donations from many and are grateful for the confidence placed in us.  We are putting the funds to work in the form of expert assistance for what we do.  As these reviews move forward, we will continue to gratefully accept checks sent to Jackson Park Watch, P.O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615.


As always, feel free to share this Update widely.

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

Jackson Park Watch Update 11 26 17

Greetings all,

As usual, a lot has been happening, including Thanksgiving! We hope you had an enjoyable one, with friends and family, good food, and many things to be thankful for.

In the interim since our 11/11 Update, much seems to have changed. Here is a run-down:

Plan Commission submission seemingly pushed back

The Obama Foundation has repeatedly said it would submit the Obama Presidential Center (OPC) proposal to the Chicago Plan Commission this calendar year. Now that seems to have changed. While all things are possible with Chicago politics, it is very unlikely that the OPC proposal will be submitted to the Plan Commission for consideration at its December 21 meeting. (Of course, we will continue to be vigilant.) Instead, it appears that the Plan Commission review may be delayed for several months and that the required historical and environmental reviews will start first.


Historical and environmental reviews pushed forward

The City Department of Planning and Development has posted a website with the disarming title of “Environmental Review of Jackson Park Improvements.” You may want to take a look.


After the initial (promotional) paragraphs there is useful information about both of these required reviews – the NEPA review, required under the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Section 106 review, required under the National Historic Preservation Act.

These very important reviews were first noted in a single poster board at the CDOT open houses in August, but there has been very little public discussion of them. Nonetheless, numerous interested groups including Jackson Park Watch have signed on as “consulting parties” for the Section 106 review, scheduled to start on an extremely short-time line, next Friday, December 1. (In fact, JPW is aware of some groups that have requested consulting party status but have not yet received their official invitations, raising questions about the feasibility of the Dec. 1 start date.)

In addition to JPW, other consulting parties that we are now aware of include FOTP, Preservation Chicago, Openlands, Landmarks Illinois, at least one national organization (The Cultural Landscape Foundation), and numerous other local organizations including the Midway Plaisance Advisory Council, Save the Midway and several members of the Community Benefits Agreement coalition. Consulting parties will be able to raise concerns and pursue questions. JPW is working on a statement of concerns for the initial Section 106 meeting, and we are in discussion with an attorney with expertise on Section 106 reviews, especially those related to historic properties such as Jackson Park.

Scrutiny of the maps sent with the official invitation to be a consulting party and available also on the City website shows several interesting and problematic features, among them these:

  • The maps depict the Obama Presidential Center buildings as located on the parkland it has most recently claimed despite the fact the portion of Jackson Park designated for use by the Obama Presidential Library (not Presidential Center) by the City Ordinance of March 2015 is not the same as that now desired by the Obama Foundation.
  • The maps depict the roadway work under review as including Marquette Drive, despite the fact that the proposed Marquette Drive closure has nothing to do with the OPC. (In fact, the Obama Foundation has several times said that the golf course consolidation/expansion project is not its project.) It appears that either the Marquette Drive closure should be severed from this Section 106/NEPA review, or the entire golf course consolidation/expansion project should be added in order to ensure that the golf course project does not escape these vital reviews.
  • The maps depict the current roads to be affected by CDOT’s plans but do not show the proposed reconfigurations.
  • The maps depict the main OPC building as being 220’ tall, which is 40’ higher than previously reported.

As noted on the City website, there will opportunities for broader public participation as well through the NEPA review process and additional meetings to be scheduled for the South Lakefront Framework Planning process. We will alert you to those public meetings as the schedules are announced.


What next?

Based on what we know at present, we anticipate that revisions to the OPC and CDOT proposals resulting from these concurrent reviews – if any – will then be submitted to the Plan Commission for approval. We will be sharing information about that schedule, ways of participating in the Plan Commission process and more when that time comes. We have been asked about the possibility of seeking a remedy in the courts if need be and would simply add that we are not there yet.


Thank you!

We have received generous tax-deductible donations from many and are grateful for the confidence placed in us. While we are comfortable with our current bank balance, it now appears that we will need to retain the services of two attorneys – one for the Section 106 process and one for the Plan Commission process – and perhaps a traffic consultant as well, so we may be making an urgent request for your financial support at some future point. In the meantime, we will continue to gratefully accept checks sent to Jackson Park Watch, P.O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615.


As always, feel free to share this Update widely.

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

Jackson Park Watch Update – November 11, 2017

Greetings all,

We are at an important point:

  • As you will see below, the Obama Presidential Center and the controversies that swirl around it have become big news.  There is so much media coverage that it is hard to keep up.
  • As reported in several articles and in a Tribune editorial, the Obama Foundation may be beginning to respond to the community, at least on the issue of the above-ground parking garage it proposes for the Midway.  This is heartening.  We hope the seeming responsiveness continues and expands to all the issues in contention.
  • Also, there are some signs that the Obama Foundation is slowing its rush to submit the OPC proposal to the Chicago Plan Commission.   We hope this proves to be the case.
  • We continue to believe that it will be better for the community and for the Obama Presidential Center itself if the Obama Foundation engages openly and candidly with the community on the full range of issues that are in play.  It is not yet too late.
  • In the meantime, keep raising your voices and explaining your concerns!

OPC in the news!

A growing number of groups and individuals are expressing skepticism about the plans for the Obama Presidential Center, as reported in the Tribune, the Reader, and the Washington Post.  The Tribune concluded in its Nov. 8 editorial that both the City and the Obama Foundation need to be more responsive and to provide concrete answers to the community’s many questions

At the same time, area citizens have been forthright in writing to local newspapers to air their concerns about the empty promise of “trust us,” the conflicted legacy of a community organizer, the lack of community input, and the lack of economic impact where it is most needed.

The first Obama Foundation Summit generated lots of headlines with its innovative programming and celebrity participants.  It also yielded new reports on the evolving design and timetable for the OPC.  The Sun-Times reported comments by Tod Williams, the one of the Center’s architects, that the plans for the parking garage on the Midway were being reconsidered and also commented on active discussions between the Obama Foundation and the Chicago Public Library concerning the possible location of  a branch library within the OPC.    In the Tribune, Blair Kamin noted that the Obama Foundation had evidently slowed its schedule for submission of its plans to the Chicago Plan Commission and commented on the continuing mantle of secrecy surrounding the OPC design.

Meanwhile, the Obama Library South Side Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) Coalition expanded its efforts to bring the Obama Foundation to the negotiating table with a demonstration at the  OPC site on Nov. 7.    About 130 enthusiastic supporters turned out for speeches and a brief interruption of rush-hour commutes at the intersection of Cornell and Hayes drives.  As the Tribune reported, the CBA advocates  believe that the transfer of  public parkland for the OPC carries with it a requirement for public accountability.  


Tracking the OPC submission to the Chicago Plan Commission:

Speculation abounds as to when and by what method the Obama Foundation will formally submit its proposal for the Obama Presidential Center for approval by the Chicago Plan Commission.  The Plan Commission hearing will be the most critical opportunity for community comment.  Much will depend on what the submission looks like, and although the Obama Foundation may have slowed its timeline for the submission, we need to be vigilant.   While we wait, here is what we actually know:

  1. Notification:  Notices about the submission of the application for Plan Commission approval  must be sent to “property owners” within 250 feet of the boundaries of the “subject property,” not including roads or alleys, at least 15 days prior to the Plan Commission hearing.
  2. Who will receive the notification? “Property owner” in this case means the individual  (or the individual’s agent) who receives and pays the property tax bill.  Thus, individual unit owners in a condominium building would receive individual notices, as would owners of single family houses.  Residents in cooperatives would not receive an individual notice; the notice would go to a coop officer or perhaps to the property manager.  Renters would not receive notices; the building’s owner would.
  3. What is the “subject property”?Given this unusual situation, it is not clear what the ”subject property” will actually be and thus is it unclear what area will be affected by the mandatory notice requirement.  The notification zone almost certainly would stretch all along the west side of Stony Island between 63rd St/Hayes and the Midway, and then perhaps 250 feet further south and north as well.  It may well include all of the area east of the Metra tracks.
  4. Be on the lookout if you are in the notification zone:  Because neither Margaret nor Brenda is eligible for this notification, we ask everyone who may be receiving a notice to monitor the mail carefullyand contact us immediately upon receiving the notice.  The notice is likely to be sent via regular business mail, coming perhaps from a law firm or other agent acting on behalf of the Obama Foundation; it is even conceivable that it will be from the City.
  5. Then what? As soon as we have a chance to review the notice with our attorney, we will share information about what comes next.  We will be able to inform all concerned about the hearing and provide details about how one can testify or otherwise provide input into that assessment.
  6. IMPORTANT: You do NOT have to receive an official notification to be able to testify at the Plan Commission hearing! In general, anyone who wishes to comment on a proposal that has been submitted to the Plan Commission can do so.  Statements are limited to 3 minutes.  We will no doubt want to do a lot of advance planning to ensure that all of the important points are covered.


JPW Recognized as a VIP!

That’s VIP as in “Volunteer-in-Parks.”   On Nov. 5, Friends of the Parks recognized Jackson Park Watch at its 2017 VIP Awards Reception, meeting this year in Douglas Park.    JPW was honored to be acknowledged for its advocacy efforts on behalf of Jackson Park.


Thank you! 

We have received generous donations from many and are grateful for the confidence placed in us.  Although we will continue to gratefully accept checks sent to Jackson Park Watch, P.O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615, we now have enough in our account to fund this current phase of our work.  However, we may be asking for your financial support again in the future.


As always, feel free to share this Update widely.

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

Jackson Park Watch Update – October 17, 2017

Greetings all,

A lot is happening!  Here is a rundown of recent developments and major news items.

BUT FIRST – please donate!  Jackson Park Watch fund-raising is off to a promising start but major challenges are ahead.  Although the Chicago Park District has slowed development of a new Framework Plan for Jackson Park and South Shore, the Obama Foundation continues to say it will submit its proposal for the Obama Presidential Center to the Chicago Plan Commission before the end of the year.  JPW is seeking expert counsel to ensure that community concerns are heard and have impact, and your tax-deductible financial support is needed to make that happen.  Send checks made out to “Jackson Park Watch” to Jackson Park Watch, P.O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615.  E-mail jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com with any questions.

Another land grab? Community members have launched Save the Midway, a campaign to oppose the Obama Foundation’s proposal to build an above-ground parking garage on the eastern tip of the Midway Plaisance.  Visit their website to sign their virtual postcard. Read about the background of the initiative in the Hyde Park Herald .

What will be in those OPC buildings? The Tribune recently examined the implications of the fact that the OPC will not be a research library or public archive, but rather will be an entirely private enterprise.  Plans for the Obama Museum (that really tall building) were recently described by Louise Bernard, the Museum’s founding director, at a panel discussion at the DuSable Museum:  there will be a large public lobby, five levels of museum displays, a “sky room” on the top for community viewing, and in between, a suite for the use of the Obamas.

Golf course plan still unknown:  The Tribune editorial board has taken the City and Park District to task for trying to orchestrate a “secretive rush job” for approval of the proposed golf course merger.  While praising the Park District’s decision to slow down the review process, the editorial calls for the Park District to heed and address community concerns about the course’s affordability and accessibility and about the threatened nature sanctuary.  JPW raised these questions in its Aug. 4 open letter to the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance and Park District without any response to date.

OPC still rushing ahead:   On a related note, JPW also praised the Park District at its October Board meeting for slowing down the South Lakefront Framework Plan process.  At the same time JPW noted  the disconnect between the Park District schedule and the OPC’s determination to rush ahead with its plans:

Spokesmen for the Obama Foundation and OPC architects have stated on more than on occasion their aim to fully integrate the OPC with Jackson Park.  If they are sincere, then they should delay the submission of the OPC plans to the Plan Commission until the Framework planning process is complete.  And they should participate in the active dialogue and give-and-take of the Framework Plan process and be prepared not only to advance their ideas and vision but also to adapt those ideas on occasion to the community’s vision for the park.  Until there is such active conversation and collaboration, this is just another case of the park being sliced and diced into unconnected segments for special interests, with no regard for Olmsted’s holistic vision.   The Park District and its Commissioners should not acquiesce to the distortion and undercutting of the Framework Plan process.

About trees and accountability:   A commentator in the Sun-Times, highlighting the need for the OPC to be more transparent in its planning and fully accountable to the public, lamented the untold number of mature trees in Jackson Park that may be sacrificed to the OPC.  (And indeed the OPC landscape architects stated at an invitation-only meeting in August that most of existing trees on the site would be cut.)  The writer concluded:  “The city has given decision-making control over a large section of public land to a private entity that is not accountable to the public. . . . I would argue, however that the situation must change, and soon.”

More news coverage:

Jackson Park under threat: The Cultural Landscape Foundation has included Jackson Park in its Landslide 2017 listing of threatened public spaces across the United States.  Noting the historic stature of the Olmsted-designed park system, the TCLF designation highlights the threats posed both by the sizable and shifting footprint of the now-private Obama Presidential Center and by the proposed golf course merger that will remove existing recreational facilities and curtail access by local golfers.   The recognition brings national attention to issues and questions that are already being recognized and raised locally, with increasing urgency.

What about the broken walkways? Amid all the focus on new projects, the ongoing and long-neglected maintenance needs of Jackson Park and neighboring parks were the initial focus of an investigation by Carol Marin of NBC5 News that aired on October 4.

Might be interesting:  On Monday, Oct. 23, 7:30 – 9:00 p.m., Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago, and Alex Goldenberg, executive director of Southside Together Organizing for Power, will discuss issues surrounding the proposed construction of the Obama Presidential Center.  The meeting at the First Unitarian Church (5650 S. Woodlawn Ave.) is sponsored by Indivisible Chicago South Side.

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

Jackson Park Watch Update – October 5, 2017

Greetings all,

Here is that IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT!  JPW has incorporated and is now raising money to carry on our work to ensure community input and transparency in major decisions about Jackson Park. 

We hope you are excited and pleased!  And we hope you will want to contribute.  Checks made out to Jackson Park Watch can be sent to Jackson Park Watch, P.O. Box 15302, Chicago IL 60615. Sorry, but we cannot accept on-line contributions at this time.  Visit the new DONATE tab on our web site for additional information. (http://jacksonparkwatch.org/donate/).

Here are some excerpts from the media release we have just now sent out:

. . . Jackson Park Watch (JPW) announces that it has incorporated as an Illinois nonprofit organization and is soliciting tax-deductible contributions under a fiscal sponsorship agreement with Friends of the Parks. The funds will be used to engage new legal and other expert counsel to expand JPW’s ongoing work of gathering and sharing information about proposed changes in Jackson Park. The focus is on the Obama Presidential Center (OPC) and related projects including road closures and realignments, an above-ground parking garage, and a PGA-type golf course. JPW has been gathering and sharing information related to the OPC through its widely followed Jackson Park Watch Updates since the July 2016 announcement that the center would be located in Jackson Park.

JPW co-president Brenda Nelms explains: “In keeping with our core priorities of ensuring community input and transparent decision-making on major matters relating to historic Jackson Park, we want to provide accurate and useful information about the review processes that lie ahead for the Obama Presidential Center as it is submitted to the Chicago Plan Commission. Retaining legal and other expert counsel will enable us to understand not only how the review processes work but how interested groups and individuals can make their voices heard so as to maximize their impact.”

Adds JPW co-president Margaret Schmid: “We welcome the OPC to Chicago’s South Side and wish President Obama the best as his visionary and exciting civic engagement and community-building programs are implemented. But it is the unfortunate truth that many aspects of the OPC proposal and related proposals have generated significant community concerns that have not been addressed. We believe that it is in the best interests of the OPC itself as well as of the community that these issues are fully aired and properly addressed as the Chicago Plan Commission and other relevant reviews take place.”. . . .

As always, feel free to share this Update widely.

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


Jackson Park Watch Update – October 2, 2017

Greetings all,


  • Reviewing the Park District’s open house meetings 9/25 and 9/27: what we learned, what we didn’t
  • Obama Foundation CEO David Simas offers one new bit of information


  • Check out JPW’s improved and updated web site at jacksonparkwatch.org. Share it widely!
  • And Heads Up: be on the lookout for an important JPW announcement coming soon


Park District Open House Sessions, September 25 and 27, show OPC, South Lakefront Framework Plan on different tracks

Track 1: South Lakefront Framework Plan process extended, still nothing new on golf course proposal

  • The Park District announced on 9/25 that it was extending the timetable for the Framework Plan process to January 2018, at which point a draft plan would be presented to the CPD Board of Commissioners. This is welcome news, although it remains unclear whether the extension will result in a plan reflecting community views. Note, however, the Obama Foundation is still aiming to submit its plans to the Chicago Plan Commission in November or December. (See below)
  • Presentation boards offered a wealth of visual data about the history and current usages of the parks, providing among other information ample evidence of the dependence of residents of Woodlawn and South Shore on Jackson Park for public recreational facilities such as the basketball and tennis courts and baseball and soccer fields that are targeted for removal by the golf course proposal.   Park District staff and consultants answered questions and took comments, but notably absent, despite earlier assurances, was any new information about the PGA golf course proposal. (The boards are viewable at https://southlakefrontplan.com/documents .)
  • The next phase, “Scenarios,” is projected to occur at some as-yet-unspecified time in November when the Park District will present “conceptual alternatives and design recommendations” for public review and comment. While it was good to hear that various options would be forthcoming, it was also clear that the Park District’s options are entirely constrained and driven by the plan for the OPC.   That is, the framework for the South Lakefront Framework Plan is being dictated by the Obama Foundation and not by public input on needs and preferences.

Track 2: Obama Presidential Center and traffic reconfigurations

  • There were a few posters about the Obama Presidential Center and the proposed traffic reconfigurations. They were entirely separate from the Park District’s presentations, and are not included in the documents available on-line. Both presentations were basically the same thing the community has seen before — neither showed any modifications or acknowledgement of the many concerns expressed about the current proposals.
  • There was no information about when there would be additional public meetings to review the next iteration of CDOT’s traffic maps.
  • There was no information about when or if the Obama Foundation would hold additional public meetings to review the plans for the OPC prior to their submission to the Chicago Plan Commission in November or December, as originally scheduled.


Obama Foundation CEO Lecture

Obama Foundation CEO David Simas spoke to a moderately full house at the Harold Washington Library on Monday evening 9/25.  Those who have been following the descriptions of the planned Obama Presidential Center programs — exciting and visionary as they sound — heard nothing new.  What was new was Simas’s suggestion that an amphitheater with capacity for 3000-5000 persons would be part of the OPC complex. JPW will be on the lookout for more information on this.

As always, feel free to share this Update widely.

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




Jackson Park Watch Update – September 23, 2017

Greetings all,


The Park District is staging “open houses” to solicit comments about plans for the PGA golf course and for the many other facilities and activities that have been pretty much ignored in their earlier meetings on Monday 9/25 (South Shore Cultural Center) and Wednesday 9/27 (Stony Island Arts Bank, 6760 S. Stony Island) from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on both days.

Be sure to be there if you can. Expect lots of lovely images, we hope with up-to-date information. Come with lots of questions about the proposed PGA golf course — preserving the Nature Sanctuary, the impact on existing recreational facilities, how many trees would be cut down to build the new course, how much it would cost and who would pay for it, and more. Ask Park District staff members to get back to you with answers. Also come prepared to tell Park District staff about your other concerns and aspirations for both programming and improvements of existing facilities in Jackson Park, such as the urgent need for a new fieldhouse, for repair of decrepit bike and pedestrian paths and of flooded underpasses, for renovation and replacement of tennis courts and ball fields, for long deferred maintenance of the park after years of neglect.

If you are unable to attend either meeting, you can still submit your concerns and suggestions to the Park District at https://southlakefrontplan.com/contact-us.


  • Also on Monday, September 25, as reported by DNAInfo, David Simas, CEO of the Obama Foundation, will be appearing at the Harold Washington Library at 6 p.m. His presentation — billed as a conversation with CPL Commissioner Brian Bannon about Simas’ life and work, including the future plans of the Obama Foundation — is the Chicago Public Library’s 2017 Cindy Pritzker Lecture on Urban Life and Issues. Advance registration is requested.   For more information , see the Library
  • The ObamaCBA Coalition meeting on Wednesday 9/20 featured the announcement that the Coalition will pursue its quest for a Community Benefits Agreement with a new initiative: a City Ordinance. The meeting was reported in DNAInfo. Visit http://www.obamacba.org/ for more information. The editorial boards of the Sun-Times and the Herald as well as Tribune columnist Dahleen Glanton have weighed in on President Obama’s position on the CBA initiative

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



Jackson Park Watch Update – September 18, 2017

Greetings all,


What happened?  Many of you were in attendance on Thursday evening when the Obama Foundation made its first solo public presentation of the conceptual design and emerging programmatic plans for the Obama Presidential Center (OPC).   We invite your comments, additions and corrections to this summary.

The energetic and well-orchestrated event, with an estimated 200+ in attendance, had the feel of a pep rally.  It opened with a boom as a contingent from the King High School marching band paraded through the conference hall, and the excitement was amplified by an unannounced appearance (via live streaming) by former President Obama.  The only questions allowed from the floor were the three selected for President Obama to address, but following the staged presentations, there was an opportunity for attendees to view posters and ask questions of architects and Foundation staffers about the designs and programs, though this segment was unfortunately abbreviated to accommodate the president’s participation.

Coverage of the event in the TribuneSun-Times , HeraldDNAInfoMaroon and elsewhere has focused mostly on President Obama’s remarks and especially his explanation of why the Obama Foundation will not sign a Community Benefits Agreement.  We will focus briefly instead on the presentations and poster board discussions that addressed more specifically Jackson Park Watch’s concern – the impact of the Obama Presidential Center on the future character and shape of Jackson Park.

  • Vision for the Park:  “Inspire and entertain” was the aspirational goal for the OPC once again voiced by President Obama and echoed by other speakers.   The programmatic offerings under development will reportedly range from museum coverage of Chicago and its African American history and of the Obama administration to a global training program in civic engagementfor young leaders to a welcoming community center for  Southsiders.  President  Obama spoke of his hope that the Center will be completely transformative in opening up Jackson Park, making it constantly active, in ways that he sees now in parks on the Northside but not on the Southside.
  • Site Creep:  Creating a unified museum campus linking the Obama Presidential Center directly with the Museum of Science and Industry was cited as the key goal driving the closure of Cornell Drive and the siting of the OPC northward beyond its originally allotted land.   Not given as a rationale for the site shift was the plan to convert the perennial garden into a water retention pond, although lead landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh did identify water management as the biggest site challenge for the designers.
  • Parking on Parkland: The design and location of the parking garage seem to be driven by the water table and the cost of digging down.  The lower of the proposed garage’s two levels might be slightly below grade but would definitely be 3-4 feet above the water table.   Meanwhile, the sloped roof would  rise above the level of the Metra tracks.  Sloped berms would partially cover the north and south walls of the garage and there would  be a plaza on the roof, but the structural essence of the garage would be very visible.
  • Traffic and golf:  The complicated traffic issues created by the closure of Cornell Drive were not addressed at all by members of the Obama Foundation team.  There was, however, a representative of CDOT present to showcase the preliminary proposals previously presented by CDOT in late August.  The proposed merger of the Jackson Park and South Shore golf courses received nomention in the presentations, and when asked about that initiative, Obama Foundation representatives stated emphatically that that is a separate, unrelated project.


What next?  Speak up, reach out.

Even this brief summary gives rise to some obvious questions that deserve discussion:

  • President Obama’s models for Jackson Park seem to be Millennium Park and Lincoln Park around the zoo, examples which he referenced directly when unveiling the OPC plans back in May.  Are these the best models for balancing the needs of tourists and local residents in Jackson Park?What would this mean for the green natural character of the Park? for Wooded Island?
  • There are other site options for the location of the water retention facility.  Why not utilize them?
  • Given that the proposed parking garage sets such an ominous precedent for the appropriation of parkland, why not utilize the option of an underground garage beneath the OPC campus as mentioned by President Obama on May 3, or perhaps under the relocated running track?

The many representatives of the Obama Foundation at Thursday’s meeting stressed repeatedly that the current plans are conceptual in nature – not finished, not final; the design team is just getting started and the plans are evolving every day.  JPW notes, however, that the site plan and sketches for the OPC presented Thursday night are mostly the same as those first unveiled in May. A few labels have changed and the design of the unfortunate now-above-ground parking garage on the Midway has been elaborated with the acknowledgement that it would be funded by the Obama Foundation.  But there have been no significant changes to the plan to reflect public or private comments of the past four months, no indication of any genuine community consultation.  We hope that, in keeping with the Center’s commitment to civic engagement, there will be the opportunity for real community engagement in the weeks and months ahead. The Obama Foundation says there will be other public meetings in the future.  We will watch for the schedule and will share it as soon as it is available.


What you can do: 

  • Raise your own questions; make your own suggestions.   Send them to Michael Strautmanis, Obama Foundation Vice President for Civic Engagement, at mstrautmanis@obamapresidentialfoundation.org.  Ask him to schedule a meeting with your community group.  Say that you look forward to his response.
  • Come to the Park District Open Houses on September 25 and 27 (see below for a revised and updated schedule) to ask your questions and offer your own vision of Jackson Park as part of the South Lakefront Framework Plan process.
  • Attend any public meetings the Obama Foundation may subsequently hold.  Look for information about such meetings in JPW Updates.




Please discard the misinformation that was provided in the September 11 Update and note the following dates, times, and locations on your calendar.

Meeting #1

When:  Monday, September 25
Time:   4:00 – 8:00 p.m.
Location: South Shore Cultural Center


Meeting #2

When:  Wednesday, September 27
Time:   4:00 – 8:00 p.m.
Location: Stony Island Arts Bank  (6760 S. Stony Island Avenue)

From the Park District’s press release :

“At these meetings, the Chicago Park District will present an update on the South Lakefront planning process and the Park District’s analysis of existing site conditions.  The goal of the meeting is to verify the guiding principles with the public and to vet the ideas that will structure the overall vision for the framework plan.  Topics to be discussed include active recreation, golf, passive recreation, water use and quality, arts and culture, and pedestrian and bicycle connectivity. The Park District will also address some of the questions that were raised in the first round of meetings and provide updates about ecology and programming opportunities in Jackson and South Shore Parks. In addition, the Park District will solicit input from community members and park users to help further develop a vision for future park improvements. Information collected will be used to guide the development of options for the area which will be presented in subsequent meetings.“

We expect that these meetings will follow the format of the August CDOT meetings at the South Shore Cultural Center – duplicates each day, with the possibility of stopping by at any time – but we will provide more information before the 25th.


Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid
Coordinators, Jackson Park Watch



Jackson Park Watch Update – September 11, 2017

Greetings, all:

We want to alert you to two more meetings where you can ask your questions and make your comments and suggestions about the proposals for Jackson Park directly to the powers that be.  Make your voices heard!


An Open House on the Obama Presidential Center (Finally!)

When: Thursday, September 14
Time:   5:00 p.m.*
Location: Hyatt Regency McCormick Place, Regency Ballroom (2233 S. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive)

The Obama Foundation is hosting its first public meeting on the design for the Obama Presidential Center and will also be seeking ideas on how the OPC can be a vital part of the South Side community and the greater Chicago area.  The Obama Foundation team presenting and listening at the meeting will include Michael Strautmanis, Vice President of Civic Engagement; Museum Director, Louise Bernard; lead architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien; and lead landscape designer Michael Van Valkenburgh.  The Sun-Times provides some context for the meeting.

*The doors will open at 5:00 for viewing of design boards; there will be a presentation at 5:45, but the Foundation promises there will be opportunities for you to speak.


South Lakefront Framework Plan Meetings Continue

When: Thursday, September 21 and Monday, September 25
Time:   5:00 – 7:00 p.m.  both days
Location: South Shore Cultural Center

As part of the framework planning initiative that began in June and is scheduled to conclude by November, the Chicago Park District has announced it will host two public meetings “to discuss recreation, culture, and programming of the parks.”  [Note that the text of the topic headline for the meetings is slightly but significantly different: “Recreation, Ecology, and Programming.”] It is expected that the format will be similar to that of the CDOT meetings in August, and that it would not be necessary to attend both days.

JPW will confirm these dates and times and provide more information on these Framework planning meetings next week, but we hope you will mark your calendars now.

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid
Jackson Park Watch



Jackson Park Watch Update – September 2, 2017

Greetings, all,

In this issue:
· The new Obama Foundation garage
· More on costs
· For lovers of landscape architecture

The New Obama Foundation Garage

On Wednesday, August 23, there was a welcome first bit of information about how the parking needs of the new Obama Presidential Center would be accommodated. The Obama Foundation announced that it would pay for and build a 450-car, two-story, above-ground parking garage on the eastern-most end of Midway Plaisance, on the tract between the Metra tracks and Stony Island Avenue. The garage would have a green roof. The schematic released shows it with sloping sides to the north, east, and south, and, on the west side adjacent to the Metra tracks, with a drive-through for car entrances and exits and for tour bus parking.

This announcement came just two weeks after Obama Foundation staffers told a Midway Plaisance Park Advisory Council meeting that there were no current plans to build such a garage. There had been no consultation with either the Midway Plaisance PAC or any neighborhood residents prior to the announcement. The Obama Foundation decision to build the garage itself came after its preferred approach proved impossible to execute.

The Midway Plaisance is classified as boulevard parkway and is owned by the City/CDOT, though it is managed by the Park District. The City Council would have to approve conveyance of the garage site to the Obama Foundation. This would be in addition to City Council approval of a new footprint for the OPC itself as the design now being proposed by the Foundation has shifted considerably beyond the site originally transferred from the Park District to the City for that purpose.

The parking garage announcement, light in details, has not surprisingly generated a host of questions:
* What would it cost to park there?
* Would it be open to the general public?
* Would it host overnight parking for near neighbors?
* How much extra traffic on the Midway and connecting side streets would result?
* What about the impact of air pollution from vehicles going in and out of the structure?
* Would the tour buses be idling after dropping off passengers at the OPC itself?
* Would this facility ultimately generate pressure to institute permit parking for near neighbors if large numbers of visitors to the OPC seek alternatives to the garage fees?

What you can do: Contact Obama Foundation V.P. for Civic Engagement Michael Strautmanis (mstrautmanis@obamapresidentialfoundation.org) to ask that the Obama Foundation host a community meeting about its parking garage proposal for all of those residing or working in the near vicinity (57th to 62nd and Stony Island to Dorchester) and other interested community members.

More on the Cost Issue

This question of the cost of the package of proposed changes to Jackson Park has become even more pressing in the light of the recent school funding reform legislation. That legislation directs some much needed funds to the Chicago schools. It also allows the Board of Education appointed by the Mayor to impose a $125 million tax hike on Chicago taxpayers, something it has indicated it would do.

We already know that the total costs of the proposed road changes and other infrastructure work related to the Obama Presidential Center and the proposed PGA golf course would be in the range of $100 million-plus . Yet these proposed expenditures for high-profile projects – some brand new, some long sought – would do nothing to address the long-term and ongoing problem of the Park District’s neglect of basic maintenance needs in Jackson Park and other Southside parks. Bridges are crumbling; bike and pedestrian paths are treacherous; underpasses are regularly flooded and impassable; the Jackson Park fieldhouse, built in 1957, is sub-par. In light of the many financial challenges facing the City, we all should be looking at the needs of Jackson Park comprehensively and planning carefully for repair and renewal of existing infrastructure and facilities as well as for guarantees that new construction projects will be maintained.

What you can do: Voice your views to the Mayor (rahm.emanuel@cityofchicago.org) and to the opinion pages of the Sun-Times (letters@suntimes.com), the Tribune (ctc-Tribletters@chicagotribune.com ), the Hyde Park Herald (letters@hpherald.com, and Crain’s Chicago Business (letters@chicagobusiess.com).

Tid-bit for landscape architecture lovers

Frederick Law Olmsted’s historic landscape architecture is a well-known feature of Jackson Park. Landscape architect buffs may be interested in two free lectures about a noted Chicago landscape architect of the Post-War era, Dan Kiley, on September 11. You can find more information and sign up at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/landscape-architecture-in-chicago-lectures-tickets-36777031090 .

As always, please feel free to share this Update widely and to post it on google groups, e-lists, or other shared sites.

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid
Jackson Park Watch co-coordinators