Jackson Park Watch Update – July 24, 2017

Greetings all,

IMPORTANT MEETING THIS TUESDAY NIGHT (JULY 25): Community Forum on South Side Development at the Experimental Station, 7-9 p.m.

This will be a key opportunity for community members to raise concerns and express their views .. Be there! Jamie Kalven will moderate. The Experimental Station is at 6100 S. Blackstone Ave. You can register through Facebook exp.st/ssdevelopment or just show up, but note the warning that seating may be limited.

Friends of the Parks op-ed on target

Friends of the Parks Executive Director Juanita Irizarry was right on target in her recent op-ed in Crain’s Chicago Business (appended below). She echoed JPW concerns with the rushed process to push through plans for the much expanded golf course and potentially unworkable road closures.  She also importantly highlighted the difference between the lengthy, careful attention being lavished on improvements to North Lake Shore Drive and the hurry-up process the City and Park District are trying to impose on the South Side for major changes to South Lake Shore Drive and its extensions.

Traffic numbers: Are these credible?

The Chicago Department of Transportation has finally given some initial projections about how it will accommodate the Obama Foundation’s desire to close Cornell Drive between 59th and Hayes Dr./63rd St. No surprise to many that CDOT Commissioner Scheinfeld had reassuring words about keeping commute times manageable, saying “Our current analysis shows we’re in shooting distance of that.” Skeptics can be pardoned if they note that the CDOT’s own numbers show traffic would increase on Stony Island by some 40% and on Hayes Drive by close to 400%, making a smooth transition more than a bit unlikely. Interesting question: would visitors to the Obama Presidential Center find themselves stuck in traffic?

Mike Kelly lists recreational facilities to be lost

A recent DNAInfo piece not only noted confusion about potential new indoor basketball facilities as a part of the Obama Presidential Center, but also gave Park District CEO Mike Kelly’s own tally of recreational facilities to be lost to Jackson Park users as result of the golf project now being championed by the Park District, the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance, and the City: 21 or more tennis courts and 6 of the 8 baseball diamonds now in the Park would to be taken out. As was the case with the South Shore Nature Sanctuary and Jackson Bark dog park, also to be eliminated by this project, Kelly dismissed these sports facilities as underused.

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid

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Jackson Park Watch Update – July 19, 2017

Greetings all,

Community voices finally heard on July 13

The final “Community Conversations” meeting last Thursday was well attended, with some 200 very engaged participants. In a welcome change from the previous City-led “Community Conversations,” the meeting ended with a two-hour session led by Alderman Leslie Hairston that provided an opportunity for residents to express directly their concerns and questions about the changes to Jackson and South Shore Parks proposed by the Obama Foundation, the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance, and the Chicago Department of Transportation.

After the presentations, which were a rerun of those given at the three prior meetings residents lined up for over two hours to voice their comments and questions about the rerouting of traffic to accommodate the closure of Cornell Drive, the loss of park space and recreational facilities, the expanded footprints of the golf course and the OPC, the rushed schedule for approving the proposed changes, and the planners’ misleading assertions that the current parks are underused and therefore in need of radical change. Many spoke also about the impact of the proposed changes on the surrounding communities and expressed support for a Community Benefits Agreement to hold the City and the Obama Foundation accountable for promises made about economic development, affordable housing, and other community issues.

Alderman Hairston repeatedly assured attendees that there are no “done deals” – that she would not be hosting a three-hour session if in fact all the decisions had already been made. Picking up on the many frustrations expressed about incomplete plans and inadequate information, Hairston reminded the three presenters that the public needed detailed, substantive proposals for review, not just schematic concepts.   But neither the alderman nor any of the presenters could say what comes next.

(FYI: Reports of the meeting appeared in the Hyde Park Herald, DNAInfo, and the Sun-Times. Also of interest is the information distributed at the meeting by supporters seeking to preserve the South Shore Nature Sanctuary and by birding enthusiasts advancing an ecological vision for Jackson Park.)

Next steps?

What does come next? To date the City, the Park District and the Obama Foundation have failed to provide any substantive information about the remaining phases of this hastily announced “framework planning process,” other than the intention to conclude the whole process by October in order to allow the Obama Foundation to seek Chicago Plan Commission approval in November.

Instead of providing meaningful information, Deputy Mayor Andrea Zopp, in her July 12 response to JPW’s open letter requesting a real framework planning process merely said: “[A]dditional community meetings will be held so that we can provide the community with an update on the process and provide detailed answers to the questions raised during this first series of meetings.” (See attachment for full letter.) Rather than the kind of extended discussion and robust community engagement that JPW has called for, this sounds like more of the same top-down process intended to fast-track approval of the plans presented so far with only minor tweaks.

We hope that last Thursday’s meeting will have convinced the City and the Park District that more, not less, discussion is needed and that the community demands an authentic framework planning process with results that are consistent with community desires. What is done in the coming five years will define Jackson and South Shore parks and their communities for the coming half century or more. The City, the Park District, and the Obama Foundation need to take the time to get it right.

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid

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Jackson Park Watch Update – July 1, 2017

Greetings, all,

Latest news: Alderman Hairston has scheduled the promised follow-up to last Tuesday’s over-capacity “Community Conversations” meeting for Thursday, July 13, at 6:00 p.m. at the South Shore Cultural Center. If you haven’t yet been to one of the “Community Conversations” meetings, be there! If you have been already, be there! Bring your family, friends, and neighbors. A huge turnout is vital. Be ready to make your voice heard!

Other Topics Today:
Media coverage of the “Community Conversations” meetings to date
The golf course proposal
Traffic and parking issues
The Process: Was it really “listening” and were these really just “concepts”?

No doubt many of you were at one or more of the “Community Conversations” meetings just concluded. Well over 1,000 community members participated, not including the estimated 160 who were turned away due to what the Hyde Park Herald referred to as a scheduling “mishap” at this past Tuesday’s meeting. (Alderman Hairston pledged to hold another meeting, and, as noted above, it is now scheduled for July 13. ) For those who weren’t there or want to review the presentations, go to www.southlakefrontplan.com and look under “Project/Documents” for the slide shows that were presented at the three meetings, including the much expanded golf course proposal, the Obama Presidential Center site plan, and planned road closures and “improvements.”

Media coverage

The series of meetings received much media attention. You may want to check these links below.

  • Blair Kamin’s thoughtful commentary on the continuing lack of coordination in planning for Jackson Park and its negative consequences.
  • Expressions of concern about the golf proposal’s threat to the nature sanctuary at the South Shore Cultural Center.
  • Community concerns about the proposed obliteration of Jackson Bark by the expanded golf driving range.
  • Coverage in the Tribune and the Herald of the chaotic Tuesday meeting where the turnout greatly exceeded the capacity of the meeting space.

 Expanded golf course proposal

As the meetings progressed and community concerns about the much expanded golf course proposal and its impact on existing natural areas and recreational facilities became clear, Jackson Park Watch took a stand against the golf proposal as it now stands, releasing this statement to the Tuesday 6/27 meeting:

“While supporting the idea of improving the existing golf course, Jackson Park Watch opposes the massively expanded golf course proposal that goes far beyond the current golf course footprint and would take out the nature area adjacent to the South Shore Cultural Center, two basketball courts, two sets of tennis courts, a soccer playing field and a baseball diamond, as well as the area’s only dog park, Jackson Bark.”

We have prepared a fact sheet (see attachment below) providing significant detail about the golf course proposal and its many problematic aspects. We encourage you not only to take a look but also to share it widely and to write or call City and Park District officials if you share JPW’s concerns.

Traffic and parking

More information about proposed road closures and “improvements” was released over the series of meeting by Chicago Department of Transportation Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld. While the list of proposed closures and “improvements” was lengthy, actual details about the changes, the costs and who would pay, the timing, impacts on traffic circulation and parking arrangements in the park and beyond, and other key matters were few and far between.

While JPW knows that the traffic studies are complete and under review by the Park District and others, they have not been released to the public. Consequently, JPW has created a traffic and parking fact sheet (see attachment below). Again, we encourage you to take a look, share it widely, and, if you agree, call or write the people listed.


Each of the “Community Conversations” meetings started with a welcome statement from either Deputy Mayor Andrea Zopp (Wednesday 6/21), another representative of the Mayor’s office (Saturday 6/24), or Park District Vice-President Avis LaVelle (Tuesday 6/27), all insisting that “we are here to listen” and that what the audiences would be hearing were “concepts,” not done deals. However, the presentations seemed to many to be finished products (despite the absence of detail), while the “listening” portions of the first meetings were heavily managed, asking audience members to respond to set questions and forced-choice options rather than soliciting actual opinions and alternate ideas. Alderman Hairston conducted the “input” segment of the Tuesday meeting in her own free-wheeling style, but there was not time or format for substantive discussion. South Siders being who we are, many in the audiences offered independent opinions and suggestions at all three meetings. But what comes next?

The schedule for development of the South Lakefront Framework Plan, as presented, runs from June to November and is comprised of four vaguely described phases. The first phase was the three (now to be four) “Community Conversations” scheduled with little advance notice and lacking in real details. As of last Tuesday, however, the City and Park District did not yet have a plan for the next step in the planning process – no information about the format, timing, location, or frequency of the public discussions that are absolutely essential for the definition of a collective vision for the future of Jackson Park. Jackson Park Watch continues its call for an open, transparent, and inclusive process that brings all stakeholders to the table in multiple, small-group sessions with full information about options and costs to consider the “concepts” that have been proposed.

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid

JPW Fact Sheet – Traffic & Parking July 1, 2017

Jackson Park Threatened: Traffic & Parking Proposals, Unanswered Questions

Download this fact sheet as a PDF…

The threat:

With the support of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the Chicago Department of Transportation, and the Chicago Park District, the Obama Foundation and the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance have proposed major changes made to roads in and around Jackson Park to accommodate the Obama Presidential Center and the golf course project. CDOT Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld presented the “concepts” listed below in recent community meetings, saying “I am here to listen.”

Jackson Park Watch calls for:

  • the traffic study results to be released in full;
  • public answers to key questions that have not been addressed (see below); and
  • further rounds of public input prior to decisions on any of these proposed changes.

Facts and unanswered questions:

  1. CDOT Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld listed the following proposed changes to the roads in and around Jackson Park:
  • Close Cornell Drive entirely from 59th Street to Hayes Drive and the northbound segment between 65th Street and 67th Street;
  • Close Midway Plaisance eastbound between Stony Island Avenue and Cornell Drive;
  • Close Marquette Drive between Stony Island Avenue and Richards Drive.
  1. In order to accommodate the new major north-south route [Lake Shore Drive to Hayes Drive to Cornell Drive (63rd to 65th) to Stony Island], Scheinfeld promised to make the following undefined “improvements”:
  • Improve Lake Shore Drive between 57th and Hayes Drive;
  • Improve turning at the interchanges at Hayes & LSD; at Hayes & Richards; and at Hayes & Cornell;
  • Convert Cornell Drive between Hayes and 65th/Stony Island for two-way traffic;
  • Reconfigure traffic flow & safety where the Midway Plaisance meets Stony Island;
  • Improve Stony Island (parameters not specified but presumably at least between 60th and 67th);
  • Construct connector underpasses under Jeffery Blvd between 67th and Marquette and under South Shore Drive near 67th Street to link golf course segments and provide pedestrian access to the lake shore.
  1. Key unanswered questions:
  • Costs of these major infrastructure projects:
    • Who is going to pay for this work? the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance? the Obama Foundation? Chicago taxpayers?
    • What others sources of funding are anticipated?
  • Timelines:
    • What are the timelines of each of these proposed changes, and how do they fit together?
    • What hearings, permits, environmental reviews, etc., will be needed, and when will these occur?
  • Specifics of proposed road “improvements”:
    • for Lake Shore Drive? (And what about the segment between Hayes and Marquette?)
    • for Hayes Drive between LSD and Cornell Drive? (What about the segment between Cornell and Stony?)
    • for key intersections along Hayes Drive and where the Midway meets Jackson Park?
    • for Stony Island?
  • Impact on traffic levels and circulation beyond the bounds of Jackson Park:
    • What will be the impact on 67th Street and residential streets directly south of the Park? on Jeffery, South Shore Drive, and other routes south of the Park besides Stony? on the Midway Plaisance? on residential streets north of the Park?
    • What improvements will there be to the intersections at 67th and South Shore and at the entrance to the South Shore Cultural Center?
  • Parking:
    • What are the parking plans for visitors to the OPC, for regular users of the golf course, and for the crowds expected for tournament events? How will tournament and school busses be handled?
    • What will be the impact on parking by neighborhood residents and workers at the University?
  • Public transportation
    • Given the balkanization of Chicago-area public services, shouldn’t representatives from both the CTA and Metra (in addition to CDOT) be included in all future discussions to address what improvements will be made to Metra and CTA services to the Jackson Park area?
  • Pedestrian and bicycle routes
    • How will pedestrians and bikers make their way safely through the reconfigured park?


  1. Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office. The Mayor appoints the Chicago Department of Transportation Commissioner. Deputy Mayor Andrea Zopp opened the first of the recent “community conversation” sessions saying “we are here to listen.” Let her (and the Mayor) know what you think at:e-mail: Andrea.Zopp@cityofchicago.org
  1. CDOT Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfelde-mail: Rebekah.Scheinfeld@cityofchicago.org
  1. Alderman Leslie Hairston.
    phone: 773-324-5555
    e-mail: ward05@cityofchicago.org

You can also enter your comments and concerns on the Park District’s special website https://southlakefrontplan.com/. However, do not expect to hear back or to know what has been done with your input, so do not make that your only line of communication.

JPW Fact Sheet: Golf Course Proposal July 1 2017

Jackson Park Threatened: the Golf Course Proposal

Download this fact sheet as a PDF…

The threat:

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his appointed Park District CEO Mike Kelly propose a significant expansion and merger of the Jackson Park and South Shore golf courses designed to benefit pro golfers who visit for infrequent championship-level tournaments at the expense of key recreational and natural areas used by Chicagoans on a regular basis. The proposed expanded golf course would eliminate a nature sanctuary adjacent to the South Shore Cultural Center, the Jackson Bark dog park, the only one on the south side, and two basketball courts, two sets of tennis courts, a soccer field, a baseball diamond, two playlots, and the riding arena at the SSCC.

Jackson Park Watch opposes the proposal:

Jackson Park Watch opposes the expanded golf course proposal, while welcoming improvements to the golf courses that stay within the current footprint, as originally announced.

If you share JPW concerns and don’t need to know more, skip to the end for people to write or call. But here is more detailed information:

  1. Where did this proposal come from?

The Mayor, Park District CEO Mike Kelly, and some golf course entrepreneurs developed this proposal out of public view, starting in 2015. Late in 2016 they created a public-private entity, the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance, to hire staff to promote the idea, do community outreach, and start fund-raising. The proposal – much more modest at the time and described as a “restoration” – was first announced, without details, in December, 2016.

  1. Would this “restoration” bring economic benefits to South Shore?

Promoters have repeatedly claimed that the golf course project would bring economic development to South Shore.  However, the expanded proposal locates a new golf course “pavilion” (a.k.a. club house) at Hayes (63rd) and Cornell Drive, not in South Shore, meaning that economic benefits for the 71st street commercial corridor near the South Shore Cultural Center would be near zero. Similarly, in response to questions about parking capacity, the promoters revealed that participants and spectators for major tournaments would be housed downtown and bussed to and from the tournament, eliminating time spent in the neighborhood outside the golf course area itself and thus any possible economic benefits.

  1. How much would this cost and who would pay?

The real answers are not known, nor is it known what portion would ultimately fall on Chicago taxpayers. The promoters have said that private funding would be raised for the golf course work itself, and their initial estimate for that work was $30 million, of which around $6 million would come from the Park District. In addition to that work on the course, there would be major public infrastructure projects: first, the needed shoreline restoration along the South Shore golf course lakefront, possibly involving the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, for which there is no current estimate; and second, the construction of two underpasses to link the golf course segments, unofficial estimates for which are steep. A cost projection of $30 million has gone unchallenged by the promoters, suggesting to some that the total cost could be far higher.

  1. The promoters claim this is carrying out plans established in the 1999-2000 “Framework” plan. Is this true?

The Framework plan envisioned golf course improvements but not a merger, not a PGA-level course, and certainly not an expansion.

  1. What about the impact on the natural areas? the nature sanctuary? trees? birding?

The expanded golf course and driving range proposals would take out hundreds if not over a thousand trees. It would dramatically cut back on the existing nature sanctuary adjacent to the South Shore Cultural Center (ironically, establishing the sanctuary was an goal of the 1999-2000 Framework plan). The promoters claim that new “natural areas” suited for bird-watching, picnicking or walking would be created in the interior of the golf course between the fairways but no details are available, and it is unclear how non-golfers would be able to use such areas safely on a general basis.

  1. What about the impact on existing recreational uses?

The expanded golf course and driving range proposals would take out two basketball courts at Cornell and Marquette Drives, two sets of tennis courts at Hayes (63rd) and Cornell Drive, a nearby soccer field and baseball diamond, two playlots along 67th Street, and the riding arena at South Shore, all well-used. It would also eliminate the area’s only dog park, the much loved Jackson Bark, located on an abandoned tennis court to the north of the driving range.

  1. The 1999 Framework plan and more recent proposals for reconfiguring uses in Jackson Park have all proposed relocating the driving range so that it would be adjacent to the golf course and making that space (a “great lawn” in Olmsted’s original plan) available to the general public for passive recreational uses. Early discussions by the Golf Alliance also included that idea. Why the change?

Golf course designer Beau Welling says that the driving range needs to kept where it is and expanded (thus eliminating Jackson Bark) because pro golfers who may use it on occasion need to practice longer shots.

  1. What about benefits to existing golfers?

Promoters of the expanded golf course proposal have secured the support of some existing golfers. Others, however, question whether the courses will continue to be affordable if this proposed projects moved ahead. Some also say that the courses are fine as they now are.

  1. What about youth golf programs?

Much has been made of the expanded youth golf programs the promoters promise. Such programs could and should continue without expanding the golf courses beyond their current footprints. Also, youth golf programs already operated by existing golf clubs have been sadly overlooked.

  1. Is this a golf course “restoration”?

The promoters continually insist that this is a golf course “restoration.” Given the expansion considerably beyond the original footprint and plans revealed by Mark Rolfing on June 24 to move earth and trees and reshape water features, that remains to be seen. Some are already looking to what additional reviews and regulations might be triggered by changes beyond “restoration.”


  1. Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office. The Mayor appoints the Park District CEO and Board members. Deputy Mayor Andrea Zopp opened the first of the recent “community conversation” sessions saying “we are here to listen.” Let her (and the Mayor) know what you think at:
    e-mail: Andrea.Zopp@cityofchicago.org
  1. Alderman Leslie Hairston.
    phone: 773-324-5555
    e-mail: ward05@cityofchicago.org
  1. Park District CEO Mike Kelly
    phone: 312-742-4200
    e-mail: Michael.Kelly@chicagoparkdistrict.com

You can also enter your comments and concerns on the Park District’s special website https://southlakefrontplan.com/. However, do not expect to hear back or to know what has been done with your input, so do not make that your only line of communication.

Jackson Park Watch “Community Conversations” Update June 22, 2017

Greetings, all,


Facts and information on costs and feasibility were noticeably absent in last night’s “Community conversations” meeting, the first of three in what appears to be a series of community “conversation” meetings in coming months.  Instead, the meeting featured a conflicting array of presentations:

First, a welcoming tone by Deputy Mayor Andrea Zopp and Park District Vice-President Avis LaVelle, saying that community input is needed, that nothing is yet fully decided, and that they need to hear from us all.

Next, a golf course “concept” plan enthusiastically presented by Beau Welling, the golf course designer with whom Tiger Woods works, that expands the existing golf courses footprint, takes out the natural area to the southeast of the South Shore Cultural Center, and not only keeps the golf course driving range but expands it, all the while offering no information about funding or timelines.  Noteworthy points include:

  1. with all games slanted to begin and end at a new pavilion on Cornell and Hayes, the project will have little beneficial economic impact on South Shore’s main commercial corridor, and
  2. despite repeated assurances until yesterday that the nature sanctuary east of the South Shore Cultural Center beach would not be affected, the plan shows it as the site of a new hole featured in the presentation and touted as a key lure for major tournaments.

The following presentation about the Obama Presidential Center by V.P. for Civic Engagement Michael Strautmanis  combined south side boosterism with a crowd-pleasing appeal to all who love the Obamas, but didn’t tell us anything new about OPC plans and hid until the end the fact that OPC plans as they now stand require closing Cornell Drive between 59th and 63rd.

Finally, there was a bland presentation by CDOT commissioner Rebecca Scheinfeld of all of the roads closure and ”improvements” that would be required to realize the “visions” of the OPC and golf course promoters, again without data, costs, or timelines, including:

proposed closures:

  • Cornell Drive 59th to Hayes
  • Midway EB between Stony Island and Cornell
  • NB Cornell Drive from 67th to 65th  
  • Marquette from Stony Island to Richards

proposed “improvements “:

  • improve LSD to Hayes
  • improve interchanges at 63rd (Hayes) & LSD; 63rd & Richards; 63rd & Cornell
  • reconfigure traffic flow & safety where the Midway meets Stony Island
  • improve Stony Island (presumably between 60th and 67th)
  • convert Cornell south of 65th to two-way.

The complete absence of any reference to traffic studies, costs, or feasibility was remarkable.  More importantly, the fact that one of Scheinfeld’s stated goals was “to lessen the impacts on commute times due to the closure or Cornell and Marquette” rather than to investigate the feasibility of closing Cornell and Marquette suggests that CDOT may be compromised and its credibility in doubt. We hope instead to see the data that she seemed to indicate would be forthcoming at some point.

Concluding comments:

The turnout at the meeting was huge, and that was great.  The “listening” sessions at the end of these presentations left something to be desired in terms of the individually facilitated small groups JPW had been told would be there, but nonetheless did allow some chances for individuals to comment.  JPW attempts to accurately summarize the comments in these somewhat random sessions indicate support for the OPC and a desire to help it succeed; major skepticism about the golf course initiative; and extremely serious broad-based concerns about the massive road-closure and reconfigurations presented as if they were a “done deal,” (soothing words from Andrea Zopp and Azis Lavelle at the begining of the meeting notwithstanding), let along questions of exactly who would be paying for all of this major road work.

All in all, JPW urges everyone to attend one of the remaining sessions to ask for real data, information about costs and who will pay them, and workable time lines.  While joining with others in welcoming OPC into our neighborhood, we know that projects as substantial and far-reaching as these of necessity have untold numbers of details that need fine-tuning, and that community input is essential to getting it right.  We want to be certain that traffic and parking arrangements, in particular, ensure that would-be visitors to the OPC and would-be golfers at any newly configured courses (let alone neighborhood residents, those who work in the area, and regular commuters) are not deterred because of massive traffic jams.

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid

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Jackson Park Watch Update – June 16, 2017


Greetings, all,

BREAKING NEWS: On Wednesday, June 14, the Park District and the City announced the beginning of a series of “community conversations” about the future of Jackson Park and South Shore, a welcome albeit belated nod to the importance of the community. Both the Obama Foundation and CDOT will also be involved.

IMMEDIATE CONCERNS: The fact that the first three meetings have been scheduled on very short notice for next week does not bode well, nor does the absence of information about the process or provisions for community concerns to be taken seriously. At the June 14 Park District board meeting, JPW criticized the woefully inadequate advance notice and the absence of information about the structure of the meetings, and issued its own criteria for what a legitimate community input process should look like (see Comprehensive planning for Jackson Park below for that list).

INTERESTING ASIDES: In a private side conversation, we were told that those planning these events envision breakout discussions and feedback at each meeting, and that there will then be a further series of meetings over the next couple of months , each with new information as it becomes available. But there has been no public announcement of these plans so far, so we shall see.

TURNOUT VITAL: This is a critical chance to make community voices heard! All concerned community members should come to one or more of the meetings to hear what is said, raise their questions and concerns, and build momentum for the next round of meetings later in the summer. The greater the participation, the strong the community voice! There are many, many reasons for reasons for skepticism, but the fact remains that if we do not turn out for these meetings to pose our questions and express our anger, all of these plans WILL be a done deal
#1 Wednesday, June 21, South Shore Cultural Center, 6 – 8 p.m.
#2 Saturday, June 24, Hyde Park High School, 10 am – 12 noon
#3 Tuesday, June 27, La Rabida, 6-8 pm, at Alderman Hairston’s ward meeting

IMPORTANT: please share this Update widely with friends, family, neighbors, associates, and anyone who may be or should be interested!

To help prepare for these meetings, we want to share what we’ve been hearing about some key issues:

  • Plans for the Obama Presidential Center, including the underground parking garage on the Midway and the closure of Cornell Drive envisioned by President Obama;
  • plans for the golf course “transformation”;
  • the status of Project 120’s proposed visitors pavilion/outdoor music venue.

Obama Presidential Center

As time has passed without more information about President Obama’s proposals for the OPC, community anxieties and grumblings have increased. New attention is being paid to “site creep” issues, fueled by the soil borings on the Midway space identified by Obama as his hoped-for underground parking garage (not to be paid for by the Obama Foundation). Nothing certain is known about future parking garage plans as yet.

The proposed Cornell Drive closure continues to cause consternation as people try to envision alternate traffic arrangements and raise safety concerns, especially related to the young children (and accompanying adults) at neighboring schools, the students at Hyde Park Academy and University students and staff. Fearing a worsening of an already difficult situation, other voices are raising concerns about the southbound rush hour traffic that already exits LSD at 53rd (or sooner) and travels over small, residential streets. Reports indicate that the Obama Foundation – or CDOT, or IDOT – is conducting traffic studies.

The golf course “transformation” project

Public release of the report of the engineering study related to the golf course redesign continues to be pushed back. Once slated for the end of March, the latest hoped-for release date is now early July.

Various reports suggest that the total costs of infrastructure requirements uncovered during the engineering study plus the golf course work itself may be substantially more than anticipated. There are signs that golf course plans are in part contingent on decisions concerning the OPC and Cornell Drive.

Pavilion/music venue “not going to happen”

JPW has heard repeatedly that the Project 120 proposal for a pavilion with an outdoor music venue was on the “back burner.” When asked about the proposal at a recent meeting, Alderman Hairston said “Project 120 is not going to happen.” This is good news! JPW will continue to monitor the situation to ensure that this particular phoenix does not rise from the ashes.

Comprehensive planning for Jackson Park

As noted, the Park District and City have called for “community conversations” about the future of Jackson Park and South Shore. Understandably, there is considerable community skepticism about whether this will be a legitimate process or instead will be a sham, a cover for approval of plans already made. Here is what JPW had to say at the June 14 meeting of the Park District Board.

Here are some elements we believe to be necessary for an effective public process:

  • It must start with a public acknowledgement by the Park District and the other entities that some of the plans developed to date may need to be changed in response to community concerns.
  • It must include multiple public meetings, in a variety of venues, publicized well in advance of the meeting dates, open to all of the members of the relevant communities, with opportunities for community stakeholders to comment on the proposed changes and to identify and advocate for priority needs left unmet (e.g., a new Jackson Park fieldhouse, repairs to bike and pedestrian paths with potholes).
  • It must include responses to those comments, questions, and concerns.
  • It must provide systematic presentations about the various projects separately as well as a vision of how the projects will fit together and be integrated into the park as a whole.
  • It must include discussion of how these projects will impact the communities around the park with regard to such issues as traffic patterns, congestion, parking, and noise.
  • It must provide credible information about sources of funding, including the costs to taxpayers, as well as realistic time lines.
  • Given that there are several significant entities involved, it must provide clarity about who is in charge of realizing the integrated vision for Jackson Park. Who is accountable? Is it the Park District? the City?

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid

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


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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
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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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