Jackson Park Watch Update – May 13, 2017

Greetings, all,

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


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

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

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

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


Obama Presidential Center

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid

Jackson Park Watch


Like us on facebook.com/jacksonparkwatch


Jackson Park Watch Update -April 2, 2017

Greetings all,


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

·         Actual new information on the Darrow Bridge reconstruction

·         That new economic development corporation

·         Shared concerns

Obama Foundation plans for community input still unclear

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

 Golf course “transformation” timeline uncertain

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

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

 Actual news on the Darrow Bridge!

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

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

 That new neighborhood economic development corporation

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

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

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

Shared concerns: Keep Grant Green

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

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid

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

Jackson Park Watch Update – March 6, 2017

Greetings all,

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

The end of the month brought two promising developments:

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

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

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

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

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid

Jackson Park Watch
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Jackson Park Watch Update – February 19, 2017

Greetings all,

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

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

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

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

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid

Jackson Park Watch
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Sun-Times – Fundraising under par for Jackson Park/South Shore golf course merger

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s $30 million plan to merge the Jackson Park and South Shore golf courses into a single, championship-caliber course has hit a fundraising slowdown amid fears of exactly how the redesigned holes would be built along the Lake Michigan shoreline.

Michael Ruemmler, the former mayoral campaign manager now serving as a founding director of the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance, said private donors want to see results…..

Read more

Posted in Media   •  

digitaledition.Chicago Tribune – Obama library design remains a mystery

Barack Obama is building his presidential library on Chicago’s South Side, in Chicago’s Jackson Park and next to Chicago’s Woodlawn neighborhood. Chicago residents will weigh in on it, Chicago aldermen will vote whether to approve it and Chicago benefactors will be asked to open their wallets to support it.

So it would be reasonable to think that the first hints about the project’s design would be dropped somewhere in Chicago…..



Posted in Media   •  

ChiCago Tribune – Alderman calls for more transparency on Obama Library planning

The Obama Foundation, the not-for-profit developing the first African-American president’s library and museum in Jackson Park, was criticized by a local alderman Monday for not sharing enough information on how South Side residents will benefit from the high-profile project.

“My primary concern is how the Obama Foundation plans to engage the community….

Read more

Posted in Media   •  


Greetings all,

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

Now: the road closure proposal

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

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

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

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

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


Meeting with the Obama Foundation

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

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

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

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

More on the golf course

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

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

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

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

Speaking of comments:

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

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid
Coordinators, Jackson Park Watch
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