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Jackson Park Watch was born in January 2016 when JPW coordinators Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid sought to understand what was behind recurrent reports and occasional public presentations about a plan by Project 120, a private nonprofit, to build a large visitors pavilion with an outdoor music venue at the north end of Jackson Park.
As JPW’s investigations made the details of Project 120’s agenda more visible, community members identified a long list of concerns, including noise, parking, an adverse impact on birds, and the destruction of green habitat and trees, all voiced at a May 31 community meeting that drew an overflow crowd.
JPW’s probes uncovered a long-secret August 2014 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Park District CEO Michael Kelly and Project 120 President Robert Karr (see the full MOU in “additional information” below). The agreement, prepared without community input or approval by the Park District Board, created a public/private partnership between the Park District and Project 120 with far-reaching consequences for Jackson Park:
- It documented Project 120’s payment of $700,000 to cover the Park District’s match for an environmental restoration project by the US Army Corps of Engineers on and around Wooded Island in Jackson Park.
- It established a new Phoenix Pavilion and Cultural Zone and empowered Project 120 to develop plans and raise funds for the construction of a visitors center/music venue.
- It authorized Project 120 to develop the Garden of the Phoenix on and around Wooded Island, including the commissioning of a then-undefined work by Yoko Ono.
As media reports of a sculpture, Sky Landing, by Yoko Ono accelerated in 2016, JPW attempted to understand how an art work could be installed in a public park without following standard Park District procedures and without approval by the Park District Board. Continued probing finally yielded, late in 2016, two disturbing responses:
- First, a Construction and Donation Agreement produced after numerous FOIA requests, seemingly signed after the sculpture had been installed in October 2016, and with no record of a Park District board vote on the matter (see “additional information” below);
- Second, in a statement at the December 2016 meeting of the Park District Board, Park District General Counsel Timothy King asserted that Sky Landing was exempt from standard Park District requirements for art installations because it was part of the Mayor’s Art Initiative (a claim not based on the facts), and that the installation did not need consideration or approval by the Park District Board because it involved no expenditure of Park District funds.
JPW continues to question whether the Park District really meant what King’s statement seems to imply: that if someone has a proposal for changes to a park that meets with CEO Kelly’s approval and has the funds to make it happen, nothing more is needed.
Given this history, Project 120’s proposed visitors center/music venue remains a matter for continuing concern. Community members do not want to wake up one morning to find that, in a repetition of the stealth installation of Sky Landing, construction on the pavilion/music venue is suddenly underway. JPW will continue to monitor the Park District’s partnership with Project 120.
The little-known Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Park District and Project 120, executed in July 2014 and expiring in August 2017, can be read at Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Project 120 and the Chicago Park District.
The agreement between the Park District and Project 120 concerning the Sky Landing sculpture, seemingly dated after the installation of the sculpture on Wooded Island in October 2016, can be read at:
The Chicago Tribune drew attention to the plans for a music venue in Jackson Park and other city parks and commented on those plans in a related editorial.