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On December 18, 2016, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Park District CEO Michael Kelly announced with great fanfare the formation of the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance, a private entity organized to develop plans and raise private funds for the “upgrade” of the Jackson Park and South Shore Golf Courses. While details were and continue to be scant, the announcement outlined a $30 million, four-year project to combine the two separate courses into a single 18-hole, PGA-grade course to be designed by Tiger Woods.
Jackson Park Watch immediately asked that the public be given full information about precisely what was envisioned, and called for a robust community input process before any changes are made .
Subsequently it was revealed that, although the Park District Board had never voted on the plan, Mayor Emanuel and CEO Kelly had discussed this project in August via the Mayor’s personal e-mail account, that the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance had been incorporated as far back as October 2015, and that CPGA President Mark Rolfing had already been paid $90,000 by the Park District for initial work on the project. On January 11, 2017 the Park District Board of Commissioners was asked to approve a $1.1 million design services contract with SmithGroupJJR, Inc., an engineering consulting firm hired to develop plans for the merged course and to initiate work on the South Shore golf course in spring, 2017. Friends of the Parks called the engineering proposal “the cart before the horse” and urged the Board to defer the vote . When the Board proceeded anyhow, the Tribune aired the controversy and editorialized about the dearth of details, the unseemly rush to act without public input, and the importance of guaranteeing that existing golfers would continue to have affordable fees at convenient times.
There have since been several inadequately publicized opportunities for the public to question CEO Kelly about the project and the Park District has posted a Q & A on its web site home page along with a ‘”submit comments” button. These small steps toward transparency are welcome, but many important questions remain unanswered, including:
- What will be the impact on the existing golfers and established community golfing programs? Specific information and enforceable guarantees are needed.
- What is the impact on the nature sanctuary adjacent to the South Shore Cultural Center? Will it become part of the new pro golf course and lose its character?
- Is the upgraded golf course going to be fenced in whole or in part, denying access to community members who use the current courses for walking and for skiing during winter months?
- What exactly is the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance that has been created to develop and promote this plan? What is the Park District’s role? Who is in charge? Where is the money coming from? What public accountability will there be?
- Where is an actual business plan that demonstrates the financial viability of the reconfigured golf course?
- What are the likely final costs to the taxpayers? Initial discussion posits a $6 million investment by the Park District, but that does not include the construction costs for underpasses under South Shore Drive and Jeffrey, which are expected to come from other public coffers and estimated to be $11 million or more. It seems likely that final costs to us, the taxpayers, would be far higher.
The Park District disingenuously claims that its golf course “upgrade” is based on the 1999-2000 Jackson Park and South Shore Framework Plan. While the Plan did discuss the golf courses, it focused on improvements for local golfers and did not propose combining the courses or upgrading it to PGA standards.
The Chicago Parks Golf Alliance – CPD Agreement 12.15.16 , dated December 15, 2016, has never been voted on by the Park District Board. The document provides few details and only promises that actual construction or operating plans will be added later. Yet it gives the CPGA considerable authority to act immediately on behalf of the Park District’s golf courses (starting with Jackson Park and South Shore), even though there is no mechanism for public accountability
The document prepared by SmithGroup JJR in response to a Park District Request for Services detailed initial cost projections — $5 million for the golf course itself, $4M for other work at South Shore Cultural Center; elements for analysis – shoreline, underpasses, layout by golf course designer; and an implementation schedule — schematic design due by Feb. 1, final design due by Feb. 28, construction to start in May, completion in Summer 2018. As of mid-April, the schematic design had not been completed, and the schedule has fallen considerably behind.