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


Jackson Park Watch Update – August 27, 2017

About Those CDOT Roads Proposals

Jackson Park Watch along with many others welcomes the Obama Presidential Center to the South Side and looks forward to the exciting civic engagement, community involvement, and educational programming that it promises to bring.   Along with many others, though, JPW did not know until May that massive – and massively expensive – road closures, widenings, and relocations were to be part of the package when the City moved to give a 21-acre site in Jackson Park to the Obama Foundation. Jackson Park Watch (along, again, with many others) spent much time at the CDOT open-house meetings on August 23 and 24 at the South Shore Cultural Center. Here is our take after inspecting the drawings of road closures, widenings, and realignments that CDOT is proposing for Jackson Park.

One reason given for closing Cornell Drive between 60th and 63rd Streets, as President Obama desires, was to add parkland, and that it does.  But at the same time, much parkland would be lost to widening both Lake Shore Drive and Stony Island Avenue and making the other changes needed to accommodate the Cornell closure, and CDOT is working to demonstrate there will be no net parkland loss in Jackson Park. The Obama Foundation’s new assertion of control over 3-4 acres at the eastern tip of the Midway Plaisance for the construction of a parking garage makes that task harder. Further, there has been no progress on fulfilling the commitment to find 21 acres of suitable, local land to replace the Jackson Park land the City has given to the Obama Center.

Although no one will say, estimates are certainly out there.  A recent article quotes a City Hall source as saying it would in the realm of $100 million-plus; another details some of the expenditures city taxpayers would pick up.  Each report notes Mayor Emanuel’s effort to deflect of questions about actual cost estimates by asserting that he was focused on the “forest, not the individual trees” – an ironic comment given the number of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of mature trees that will be cut down to make way for the Obama Presidential Center and the reconfiguration of the adjacent golf course. As more and more Chicagoans find out what costs and benefits are actually entailed, we will see what they conclude.

If CDOT assumptions and numbers are right, it could work — albeit it with much grumbling — until the “new normal” is finally accepted.  But if those assumptions and numbers are wrong, traffic headaches could multiply for years, especially if Woodlawn and South Shore and the South Works areas experience the promised residential growth and economic development.  The Obama Presidential Center itself could be mired in traffic gridlock.  But this would be no pilot project – there would be no going back. Overall the planning process for these major infrastructure investments around Jackson Park is notably rushed compared to the extended planning being done for Northside projects such as the rebuild of North Lakeshore Drive. It would be better to take the time to get it right.

It has all the signs of a “done deal,” long in the planning, even though CDOT staff assert they are “just beginning” and have many problems still to address.   We note that the displays assume that a new “southlakefront framework plan” is already in place containing all of the road changes, the OPC, and the proposed golf course, underscoring the cursory nature of the “community input” involved. That said, CDOT has put together a plausible scenario entailing massive road changes and huge public expenditures.  It has shown some flexibility on resolving minor details, but none on the overall major thrust. The plan could be snarled up in some regulatory reviews.  Or Chicagoans could decide it’s not worth the price tag. The fact that our Mayor feels compelled to defend the expenditure even before we know the final tab shows that potential.

Details and Questions about the CDOT Proposals

Below is a summary overview of the major proposed changes.

You can see full details at https://southlakefrontplan.com/cdot-community-meetings-transportation-mobility-823-824 . There are two versions: a slide show and copies of the poster boards displayed at the SSCC meetings. We recommend the Boards version for the most detail about what is proposed to date.

  • Widen Stony Island: Add two lanes to Stony, taking from parkland to the east. Add a median (a.k.a. “pedestrian refuge”). All-day parallel parking on both sides.   As is now the case, no stop lights or stop signs between 60th and 63rd; a traffic light to be added at 64th.

Some questions: Would widening Stony Island encourage faster driving? Would there be pedestrian safety issues with the increased traffic? Should there be a stop sign at 62nd Street to serve residents who live directly across from the OPC? Would a wider Stony Island inhibit neighborhood access to the Obama Presidential Center and to Jackson Park generally?

  • Widen Lake Shore Drive: Add one southbound lane to Lake Shore Drive between 57th and Hayes Drive/63rd by taking land from the west (park) side. This would entail widening underpasses at 59th and just north of Hayes and widening the bridge with its historic façade that spans the connection between the lake and the 59th harbor.

Some questions: How would the widening affect the environmental restoration work done by the US Army Corps of Engineers along the western edge of LSD? Would there be financial penalties for disturbing that work? How would the widening affect the Lawn Bowling facility, whose fence is now right at the edge of LSD?   Would the bike/pedestrian path between LSD and the golf driving range be affected?

  • Change Hayes:. Make Hayes four lanes by banning all parking along Hayes. Add a concrete barrier to separate the two directions. Enlarge intersection turns at LSD, Richards, and Cornell. Add a traffic light at Richards. Possibility of a pedestrian underpass under Hayes, but location not determined.

Some questions: Hayes is now heavily used for parking by local residents who are playing soccer, golf or basketball or going to the beach, and tour buses park along the drive while school kids and tourists are at MSI. Where would all these people and buses go? Would users of the three parking lots along Hayes be able to enter and exit those facilities easily and safely? Would the elongated “S” curve between LSD and Cornell, marked with three traffic lights, be a Southside version of the much maligned “S” curve by the Oak Street beach?

  • Re-do 59th and 60th St. intersections with Stony Island. Remove stop lights at 59th and 60th. Prohibit turning north onto Stony from 59th and 60th and prohibit turning into either of those streets from the northbound lanes of Stony. CDOT staff are considering allowing a right turn from 59th onto southbound Stony that is not shown on the current boards.

Some questions: Would pedestrians crossing to the OPC from the proposed Obama Foundation parking garage cause traffic slowdowns? What would be the impact on neighborhood residents and on children being walked and driven to and from the Lab Lower School and the adjacent daycare facility?

  • Re-do connections between the Midway, Stony Island and Cornell: Close eastbound Midway between Stony Island and Cornell, forcing northbound traffic to turn left onto Stony Island and then immediately right onto what would be an expanded two-way, four-lane road (formerly the westbound connector) between Stony Island and Cornell.

Some questions: Could this new configuration accommodate all the traffic being forced into another “S” curve, this one tight and interrupted by a traffic light? As above, would pedestrians crossing to the OPC from the proposed Obama Foundation parking garage cause traffic slowdowns? And what would be the impact of traffic (including buses) associated with the garage?

No doubt you can think of many more questions that need to be answered before these proposals are approved.

What you can do

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


Jackson Park Watch Update – August 18, 2017


RECENT TOP NEWS: At a meeting on Tuesday evening 8/15, it was revealed that the Obama Foundation has now decided to fund and construct its wished-for underground parking garage between the Metra and Stony Island and the two arms of the Midway. More about that meeting below.

In this Issue: All About Meetings – and they matter! Numbers are counted, comments are tallied.

Concerned about those proposals to close Cornell Drive, “improve” Lake Shore Drive and Hayes, and take out Marquette? The Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) is hosting two identical open-house charette-type meetings to “present potential transportation investments to mitigate the impact of proposed closures.”

Date:   Wednesday, August 23, and Thursday, August 24
Time: 4 – 8 pm, both days (an hour is probably ample time)
Location: South Shore Cultural Center

Expect to see numerous depictions and images. Things to look for include:

  • information on the costs of these changes and who will pay;
  • information on the timelines for phasing in these changes so as to avoid traffic chaos;
  • details on any widening of Lake Shore Drive or Hayes and any impact on the recent US Army Corps GLFER plantings;
  • details about any changes to Stony Island Avenue;
  • provisions for parking to accommodate OPC visitors (but remember that the Obama Foundation has now said it plans on funding and building an underground parking garage on the east end of the Midway);
  • information on the impact of these changes on park spaces and recreational facilities       and on mature trees and other plantings.

What you can do: Be there! There will be opportunities to make comments, both verbally and in writing. Be sure to do so.


At last, some information about the Darrow Bridge reconstruction! CDOT , in cooperation with Alderman Leslie Hairston, is also hosting a meeting next week about the Darrow Bridge reconstruction project (known to CDOT as the Columbia Bridge). It will also have a charette-type format with concept drawings, maps, and aerial photography. CDOT staff will answer questions, discuss plans and take comments. Information about the construction schedule will be available.

Date:   Tuesday, August 22
Time: 5-7 pm
Location: Jackson Park Field House, 6401 S. Stony Island Ave.

What you can do: Again, be there. Ask questions.


In other meeting news, on August 15 the Obama Foundation hosted an invitation-only “Landscape Design Forum” for community members and representatives of a variety of organizations and interests. JPW was there for what turned out to be a lively discussion with lots of questions and alternate proposals. The design presented was a slightly modified version of first unveiled on May 3 and shown in subsequent “Community Conversations” meetings.

As noted above, the major new piece of information was the revelation that the Obama Foundation would itself build an underground parking garage on the Midway Plaisance, with a projected capacity of 400-450 cars and a landscaped roof. Other discussion topics and themes following the design presentation included:

  • Traffic congestion and noise, with concerns especially by those living adjacent to the OPC site.
  • The integration of the OPC campus into the Park, with repeated requests that attention be paid to the special status of the natural areas of the Wooded Island and its lagoons , which are respites for residents and migratory birds. (The designers confirmed that the plan would remove most of the trees currently on the site, while saying that more trees would be planted.)
  • Discussions of activity areas on the campus, such as a children’s playlot. Many urged that they be natural rather than traditional, quiet rather than loud.
  • Many spoke against the loss of the perennial garden that anchors the connection between Jackson Park and the Midway Plaisance, which was lauded as an iconic feature and part of the cultural fabric of the neighborhood.
  • Many called for clarification of how the proposed athletic center relates to and integrates with the adjacent Jackson Park Fieldhouse and the Southside Y.
  • Note was taken of the expanding footprint of the OPC campus, now to include not only the perennial garden site but also the end of the Midway Plaisance. Obama Foundation Vice President for Civic Engagement Michael Strautmanis said that the spatial shifts reflected in the design would have to be approved by the City.

What you can do: Share your comments and questions with Michael Strautmanis, VC for Civic Engagement, at mstrautmanis@obamapresidentialfoundation.org.   Ask him when the Obama Foundation will have public meetings.


Finally, a meeting of a very different sort: The Obama Library Community Benefits Agreement Coalition hosted a “Sustainability & Transportation Forum” 8/16 with over 100 in attendance. A number of community leaders spoke about issues related to plans for Jackson Park, the impact of the Obama Presidential Center on the surrounding communities, and the need for and feasibility of a Community Benefits Agreement. Participants broke into groups to identify key questions about Parks, Green Jobs and Building, and Transportation, plans that will be conveyed to the Mayor’s Office. One interesting note: Deputy Mayor Andrea Zopp attended, telling JPW’s Margaret Schmid that “a lot of people care very passionately about these issues.”

What you can do: For more information and/or to become a supporter, visit http://www.obamacba.org/


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