Jackson Park Watch Update – February 3, 2018

Greetings all!

Community concerns about golf course merger still not addressed

Over 200 people, including many Update readers, were in the room for the Park District’s golf course meeting Wednesday, January 31, at which the latest version of the proposal for the Jackson Park and South Shore courses was unveiled. The presentation materials from the meeting available on the South Lakefront Framework Plan website are difficult to download and to read. Better graphics of the new routing plan can be found on the boosterish website golf.com. The meeting was also covered by the Sun-Times, Tribune and Herald.

Here are some meeting highlights:

  • Park District CEO Mike Kelly is back out in front on this issue, featured at the meeting and in numerous media reports.
  • While there were some tweaks to the plan first presented on June 21, 2017, the basic design remains the same and the main concerns about the design have not been addressed.
    • The proposed expanded/merged golf course still extends beyond the footprints of the existing golf courses.
    • The proposed course still takes out the heart of the South Shore Nature Sanctuary, obliterating the lakefront path and fire pit circles on the eastern-most point, and turns that space, with its stunning views north over the lake, into Hole 15.
    • While additional spaces identified as natural areas have been introduced between fairways, they are very fragmented and narrow and would not have wildlife conservation value. Nor would they provide peaceful places so important to human visitors for passive recreation and enjoyment.
    • The recreational fields in Jackson Park and South Shore have not been replaced.  The South Shore beach is smaller, with about half of the current beach shown planted with grasses, presumably to add to the claim of replacement natural areas.
    • Overall, only high level information was made available to the public, with little detail.
  • Costs remain a major concern:
    • To build the course: Kelly stated that he intends to raise $30 million from private donors for the construction of the golf course; there was no information on how much has been raised so far. He also stated that the underpasses needed for the plan would cost taxpayers $30 million, but did not reveal where those funds would come from. Nor did he address the other major costs associated with the project – for the closure of Marquette Drive, for the planned new beach house , or for shoring up the lake edge along the South Shore course.
    • To use the course: Despite Mike Kelly’s statement that Chicago golfers would pay no more than $50, adequate information about the fee schedule – including when the most affordable fee times would be scheduled – is still lacking. There are still no assurances that current existing golfers would be able to continue to afford or have access to the course.
    • To operate the course: Questions about a viable business plan for the merged course were not addressed. There was no information about projected use of the new course or about possible PGA tournaments and the financial arrangements they would entail.
  • New themes: Mike Kelly and Beau Welling, the actual golf course designer who gave the presentation while frequently invoking Tiger Woods’ name, introduced these new emphases:
    • It’s all about the kids (over and over).
    • It’s all about bringing the community together. (One of the changes would be to locate the main club house south of what is now Marquette and just west of Jeffrey. It was described as the “community clubhouse,” where people from the Jackson Park Highlands neighborhood could find a “food and beverage outlet.”)
    • It’s all about serving local golfers. “The last thing we want to do is to make the course too difficult.”
  • The main improvement:  By relocating some of the fairways, what is now Marquette Drive would become a multi-use pedestrian path, and some of the existing mature trees would be preserved.

The presentation on January 31 was just that – a presentation. No questions were taken after the speakers concluded. Attendees were told to look at the boards and talk with staff. No additional meeting(s) has been scheduled. If you were unable to voice your concerns that evening or if you were one of the many who were not able to attend the meeting due to the last-minute scheduling, you can submit your comments on the South Lakefront Framework Plan website.

Your views matter! You can also express your concerns directly to:

Pro-OPC rally planned for mid-February

Those who have been following the schedule for the Plan Commission and Section 106/NEPA review processes now underway will have noted the listing of a public meeting in mid-February to prepare for the Plan Commission’s April hearing. This “preparatory” meeting is to be hosted by the Obama Foundation, CDOT, and the Park District. Since a meeting of this sort of unusual, JPW has written to Obama Foundation President David Simas, Park District CEO Mike Kelly, and CDOT Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld to ask for information. In the meantime, JPW has learned from other sources that this is expected to be a pep rally akin to the Obama Foundation’s first (and last) public meeting at the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place on September 14, which featured a marching band and a live-streamed appearance by former President Obama. As we learn more, we will share our information.

Another problematic CDOT proposal

As we continue to review the CDOT application for all of the road changes that the Obama Foundation wants to require, we noted with some amazement that CDOT proposes to narrow Cornell Drive between 57th and 59th Streets to one lane in either direction, allowing on-street parking in that segment in order to make up for some of the 150 parking spaces it would ban on Hayes Drive. CDOT euphemistically terms this a “road diet,” but it would likely be called a “bottleneck” (or more) by the drivers forced to merge at that point. What a concept!


Expert counsel is critical to our ability to raise key questions and pursue community concerns. Please consider a contribution (or a second one). Your check can be sent to Jackson Park Watch, P.O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615. We thank you!

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid
Co-presidents, Jackson Park Watch

Jackson Park Watch Update – January 27, 2018

Greetings, all! 

NEW! With typical short notice, the Park District/Chicago Parks Golf Alliance has scheduled ONE (and only one!) meeting for community review and discussion of the golf course plans: NEXT WEDNESDAY, Jan. 31, at the South Shore Cultural Center at 6 p.m.


Key issues to check on include:
* preservation of the Nature Sanctuary and recreation areas;
* expansion of the new golf course site beyond the current footprints of the courses;
* expansion of the current driving range rather than shifting it south of Hayes Drive;
* continued accessibility and affordability for local golfers;
* cost to taxpayers for infrastructure work; and
* evidence of a viable business plan.

NOTE: JPW advocates opposition to changes that go beyond the footprints of the current courses and/or that remove the Nature Sanctuary and existing recreational areas. A key point you may want to make: the upgraded golf course does NOT need to be longer and could fit in the current footprint! In fact, current discussions in golfing circles focus on problems with longer golf courses, with some elite players predicting that shorter courses are the wave of the future.

OPC redesign prompts further questions:

Jackson Park Watch has not previously commented extensively on the OPC site plan or building design. However, as JPW and others have had a chance to review the revised design for the Obama Presidential Center, attention is required.

The substantially greater height of the proposed tower (now 235’) and the revelation that the Obama Foundation apparently intends to spotlight it at night have been focal points for many. (For comparison, the Museum of Science and Industry is approximately 125’ tall and the Logan Center for the Performing Arts on the UChicago campus, also by the OPC architects, is 170’ tall.) Concerns about the large shadow on sunny days and the nighttime light pollution in the surrounding neighborhoods as well as about the impact on migrating birds are getting attention.

Questions about the uses of the proposed buildings have also been raised. The Lakefront Protection Ordinance application describes the tower as “composed of 8 primary floors and multiple mezzanine levels”; the museum is described as taking up about half of the building. There will be rental/event space in the tower and in other buildings. The relationship between the proposed 40,000 sq. ft. Athletic Center and the Jackson Park Fieldhouse and South Side YMCA has not been made clear.

Some have taken note of the overall site plan as well, observing that all traces of the existing segment of Jackson Park – trees, shrubs, grass, even the existing grade levels – would be eliminated by the OPC design. (The Obama Foundation plans to clear-cut and level the site.) Questions about the amount of existing recreational space that would be eliminated have been raised also, as well as questions about the replacement parkland that the City is required to provide in lieu of the OPC land. While the Obama Foundation prefers to call the proposed OPC campus “parkland,” a privately controlled site is certainly not a public park. Issues of ownership and control need to be clarified. The Obama Foundation states that the OPC will be free and open to the public, but we know that the museum and the underground parking garage will both require fees, and while presumably those fees have been factored into the budget, that information has yet to be made public.

Many have noted as well that the OPC redesign continues to presume the closure of Cornell Drive and the extensive road changes that would entail (all at taxpayer expense). The absence of attention to public transit or to access by pedestrians or bicycles has also raised some eyebrows: the auto-centric plan includes 450 parking spaces for cars and 38 for bicycles.

Two reviews are underway:

First, the Chicago Plan Commission review. The OPC has applied for rezoning of the park site as a Planned Development, and under a separate application argues that its plan meets all of the requirements of the Lakefront Protection Ordinance. The CPD and CDOT have also submitted related applications; all are available on-line (scroll to bottom of screen). However, the applications do not include many supplementary studies needed for a thorough and rigorous review. Information from shadow and sun access studies, pedestrian circulation studies, tree studies, wind studies, traffic and parking impact studies, and other such vital indicators of the effects of the OPC on the near neighborhood and broader community should be made available for the review, not only to the Plan Commission members but also to the public in general; they are not now available. JPW will be pursuing these issues. The formal Plan Commission hearing on the OPC is now scheduled for mid-April (likely April 19, the regular meeting date).  All interested members of the public will be able to attend and testify, so you may want to add this to your calendar.

Related to the Plan Commission review: It has been announced that the Obama Foundation, CDOT, and the Park District will host public meeting(s) in mid-February in preparation for the Plan Commission hearing. It is unusual for such a preparatory meeting to occur, and it is unclear what purpose such a meeting could serve. JPW has asked for more information and will share what is learned.

Second, the federal review process is focused on the questions of whether the proposed development is appropriate for an historic park that is on the National Register of Historic Places and whether the project will have adverse environmental impacts. Since the Plan Commission and City Council can be expected to approve the applications that come to them, these federal reviews are extremely significant. Construction of the OPC cannot begin until these federal reviews are concluded and mitigation of adverse impacts (if any) is explored.

Stay tuned for more information on these parallel reviews and for specific opportunities for public input.

South Lakefront Framework Plan timing questioned:

Among the “Key Milestone” dates posted on the City Department of Planning and Development website are several unspecified events in January and February designated as “preparation for final steps” in the development of the new South Lakefront Framework Plan and concluding on an unspecified date in April when the final plan would be presented to the Park District Board of Commissioner.

However, as has been noted many times, the Framework Plan process that the Park District is running is seriously flawed in two essential ways:

  • rather than being one coherent planning process that encompasses the whole of Jackson Park, it is siloed, with three (or more) projects being proposed simultaneously yet reviewed separately;
  • further, it is based on the premise that the Obama Presidential Center will be constructed as now proposed, that all of the (costly) road changes it demands will take place; and that the golf course merger/expansion will similarly occur as initially proposed.

In fact, none of these projects can proceed prior to the end of the federal review process described above, which is expected to conclude in the fall at the earliest.   We understand that the Park District wishes to create momentum for all of these proposals. However, any Framework Plan based on these initial premises may well need to be revised shortly depending on what actually transpires during the review.

Help us with a donation!

The legal assistance your donations have enabled us to secure is proving invaluable. Such expert counsel is critical to our ability to raise key questions and concerns. Please consider a contribution (or a second one). Your check can be sent to Jackson Park Watch, P.O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615. We thank you! 

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid
Co-presidents, Jackson Park Watch

Jackson Park Watch Update – January 14, 2018

Greetings, all!

More recent news — AGAIN!

NEW! Be sure to check out the new “Federal Reviews” page on our website for information about the federal review processes and to read the comment letters from a range of organizations that are posted there.

OPC redesign: Hard on the heels of the community’s successful push to force the Obama Foundation to abandon plans for an above-ground parking garage on the east end of the Midway Plaisance, the Obama Foundation, demonstrating its determination to press ahead quickly, released plans for an Obama Presidential Center redesign.

As reported in the Sun-Times, Tribune, and Crain’s Chicago Business, and covered broadly on radio and TV, the redesign, while including some interesting architectural features, is essentially just a restatement of the plans released many months ago – except that the tower is now to be 225’ tall! But still not addressed are many key community concerns, including the impact of the OPC and of the essentially discretionary road changes on the Olmsted design and vision for Jackson Park and the cost and sources of funding for those extensive infrastructure “improvements.” As the Sun-Times noted in an editorial, much more discussion and information are needed. The Sun-Times also reported the previously unpublicized fact that the controversial proposal to close Cornell Drive, which is driving the road configurations, was part of the University of Chicago’s original bid to attract the OPC to Chicago.

  • Not enough people know that Cornell Drive, rather than being a recent addition to the Park, was designed by Olmsted himself in 1895 as the best way to experience the Park. A broad roadway to be shared by carriages and cars, it was 40’ wide. (For more on Olmsted’s vision and design for Jackson Park, see the statements by The Cultural Landscape Foundation and National Association of Olmsted Parks posted on our new “Federal Reviews” page.)

Rezoning and Lakefront Protection Ordinance applications submitted simultaneously:  Also this past week the Obama Foundation submitted formal applications to the City for permission to build the OPC under the Lakefront Protection Ordinance and to rezone the site from parkland zoning to planned development institutional zoning.  Property owners within 250’ of the site that is now claimed for the OPC should soon receive notices of the applications from the Obama Foundation’s law firm Neal & Leroy. If you think should receive such a notice and do not, let JPW know at jacksonparkwarch@gmail.com .

  • JPW is analyzing these applications with the assistance of its attorneys. Look for information about the applications, how this process will unfold, and how the community can participate in the Plan Commission reviews in the near future. Although we know the process is effectively controlled by the Mayor, it is essential that community concerns are raised and that the Obama Foundation, CDOT, and the Department of Planning and Development are required to address them.
  • Note that, as the applications themselves acknowledge, even after Plan Commission and City Council approvals are secured, approvals through the federal reviews now underway are also needed.

OPC construction contracts: The Obama Foundation has received kudos for contracting with the Lakeside Alliance, a consortium that includes four local minority-owned construction firms. While this is indeed good news, it is interesting to note that the fifth, non-minority-owned member of the consortium, Turner Construction Co., will alone have a 49% share of the work.

Help us continue our work with a donation!

The federal reviews will continue for many months; they are key to the final outcome. In the meantime, the Plan Commission/City Council process needs to be critically scrutinized.   Much is at stake. Your donations help us bring outside expertise to maximize the community voice. Please consider a contribution. Your check can be sent to Jackson Park Watch, P.O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615. We thank you!

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid
Co-presidents, Jackson Park Watch

Jackson Park Special Update – January 9, 2018

Greetings, all!


The parking garage: The Obama Foundation has announced that it is abandoning its attempt to build an above-ground parking garage at the east end of the Midway Plaisance and will instead build a garage underground on the site already designated for the Obama Presidential Center.  Read all about it in the Sun-Times, Tribune, and Herald.  Congratulations to all those who helped create this positive outcome!  Let us all hope that the Obama Foundation continues to listen to community voices!

UChicago faculty letter:   Faculty at the University of Chicago are circulating a letter stating concerns about  numerous aspects of the Obama Foundation plans to date and raising the question of whether an alternate site for the OPC should be considered.   As reported in Crain’s Chicago Business, “W.J.T. Mitchell, a professor of English and art history at the University of Chicago, said he and Jonathan Lear, a philosophy professor, initiated the letter. Mitchell, author of a book, “Landscape and Power,” attended community meetings hosted by backers of the Obama Center and found them patronizing, he said. Compared with long presentations, he said, there was little time for questions from the audience. ‘More and more I heard these murmurs of discontent, which were getting louder and louder,’ he says, recalling his conclusion: ‘Well . . . this is one of those Chicago power plays.’”    (Note: you may have trouble accessing the full text of the Crain’s article unless you subscribe or have established a log-in.)

FOTP comments on the Section 106 review:  We want to add to the report in our last Update on the federal review of the impact of the OPC the historic Jackson Park.  In its consulting party statement, Friends of the Parks identified the siting of the OPC in Jackson Park as a key adverse effect on the entire Olmsted park system; highlighted the need to preserve the road system in keeping with the Olmsted design; and called again for comprehensive park planning.

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid
Co-presidents, Jackson Park Watch


Jackson Park Watch Update – January 6, 2018

Greetings, all, and Happy 2018!

2018 is off to a busy start on Jackson Park issues.

Federal agencies review OPC and CDOT plans:

Update readers will recall that the federally-required reviews of the massive proposed changes for Jackson Park, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, began on December 1. The initial focus is on Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 and an accompanying review under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) that will begin soon.

JPW among many others signed on to be a “consulting party” to the Section 106 process and was at that December kickoff meeting. At that meeting, a proposed list of historic park features and maps of the “Area of Potential Effect” (APE) that would be evaluated during the review were presented, and consulting parties were invited to submit feedback for the public record by January 5. To date, we have been able to review the submissions by Save the Midway, The Cultural Landscape Foundation, Midway Plaisance Advisory Council, Openlands, Landmarks Illinois, National Association of Olmsted Parks, Blacks in Green, and Preservation Chicago – and our own, of course. Some major concerns and themes that we found repeated again and again include:

  • Requests for a one, holistic, comprehensive review of all the proposed plans for the Park, stemming from frustration with the siloed attempt to assess the impact of the various proposals (OPC, golf course, road changes, Park District elements) separately, in isolation.
  • Requests that full information about all planned projects be revealed (especially those for Obama Presidential Center and the golf course) along with questions as to how a possibly premature review aimed at a moving target could be productive.
  • Deep concerns about the ways in which the OPC plan and in particular the road changes that it requires distort or destroy Frederick Law Olmsted’s design and vision for Jackson Park.
  • Numerous recommendations that the APE be expanded to include all of the Midway Plaisance (not just the eastern tip) and additional suggestions to include Washington Park as well to fully respect Olmsted’s original concept of the three parks as a single South Park System.
  • Substantial opposition to the above-ground parking garage on the Midway Plaisance as proposed by the Obama Foundation, along with multiple suggestions for an underground garage under the OPC buildings.

We want also to highlight some additional points from these individual submissions (with apologies for omitting other excellent points in the interests of space):

  • The Cultural Landscape Foundation strongly critiqued Obama Presidential Center plans, including the design of the high rise “Tower” and the proposed changes to the Olmsted road network that contradict the original Olmsted intent. TCLF president Charles Birnbaum stated many of the concerns in a Huffington Post op-ed piece.
  • Openlands proposed a statement of principles to guide the Section 106 review including: minimize building in the parks; replace any land used for buildings with new or reclaimed park acreage (with the added note that the greening of vacated roads does not constitute new park land); provide convenient public access and transportation; exploit synergies with existing community and cultural institutions; and restore and revitalize all of the parks – Jackson, Washington, and the Midway Plaisance.
  • Landmarks Illinois called for expanding the APE to include both the Woodlawn neighborhood in light of potential economic displacement impacts there and the Jackson Park Highlands Historic District, and, within the APE, for acknowledging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers GLFER Project on and around Wooded Island as a national model for balancing ecological needs with historic preservation goals.
  • The National Association of Olmsted Parks called for designation of Cornell Drive and Hayes Drive themselves as historic resources within Jackson Park.
  • Preservation Chicago added concerns about the proposed removal of the May McAdams Perennial Garden between Stony Island Ave. and Cornell Drive where Jackson Park meets the Midway and the impact on the Park’s many and invaluable trees, green spaces and gardens.
  • Finally, Jackson Park Watch asked that the review area include the entire golf course project and challenged the claim that the existing 1999-2000 Framework plans calls for closing Cornell Drive, points raised also by Blacks in Green.

We believe all would benefit from reading in full the thoughtful statements from all of the consulting parties noted above. We hope soon to be able to post these documents and others Section 106/NEPA materials on our Jackson Park Watch website. Stay tuned while we work this out.

Also ahead in 2018:

JPW is also tracking other strands of the Jackson Park story and will keep you informed:

  • The Park District has said it will hold community meetings on the golf course project in the first quarter of the year but there is as yet no schedule. Park District CEO Mike Kelly recently noted that the project is stalled by private fundraising difficulties and the high public cost of the necessary infrastructure improvements ($30 million for underpasses; TBD for shoreline revetments), but he vowed to continue to push the project.
  • Whether the golf course project discussions will be under the umbrella of the South Lakefront Framework Plan process is unclear.       Next steps and the end date for that process is unclear, but we expect that the Park District will hold additional public open houses on the Framework Plan in the first part of this year.
  • Throughout 2017 the Obama Foundation repeated its intention to present the plan for the OPC to the City Council and Chicago Plan Commission by November.   Now there are references to making that submission in the first half of 2018.       In the meantime, the Obama Foundation has just awarded its construction management contracts, while it has continued to refuse to work with the Obama Community Benefits Coalition on a written community benefits agreement. The possible construction start date is now set for the end of the year.


The Section 106 reviews will continue for many months, and much is at stake. Your donations help us bring outside expertise to maximize our effectiveness. Please consider a contribution. Your check can be sent to Jackson Park Watch, P.O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615. We thank you!

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid
Co-presidents, Jackson Park Watch


Jackson Park Watch Update – December 21, 2017


Obama Center parking

Just when we thought there might be a break from Jackson Park action for the holidays, the Obama Foundation called an invitation-only meeting for Wednesday night, 12/20, to discuss parking garage plans.  JPW was there, along with top staff from Chicago-area park, open space, and preservation organizations, leaders of concerned local groups, and many others.

Sadly, despite some earlier suggestions to the contrary, the meeting revealed only that the Obama Foundation is choosing to willfully ignore the objections by large segments of the community as well as other organizations to the placement of the parking garage on the Midway and instead is digging in and making only minor tweaks to its earlier design.

After a lengthy description of these minor changes, including the assertion yet again that this was not a done deal and they were still considering alternatives, Obama Foundation V.P. Mike Strautmanis. moderated a Q & A session.  Many questions were raised about the need for and desirability of having the parking garage in that location.  Numerous people suggested that an underground parking garage should instead be constructed on the already-designated OPC plot. Mike Strautmanis insisted that cost was not a primary consideration in determining the location or design  of the garage, although it is generally known that an underground garage at this location with its high water table would be very pricey.  Others focused on transportation issues more broadly and the folly of trying to address the garage issue in isolation from an overall transportation plan for Jackson Park and the Midway. Some supported the basic idea of the parking garage.  And then, suddenly, time was up, with little time for follow-up.

A KEY POINT: The Foundation and its architects are now arguing that an above ground parking garage, by requiring people to walk the short distance to the OPC, will create opportunities for shops and restaurants in the neighborhood. They continue to refer to the area as “underutilized” and in need of “activation.”  However, the Foundation and its architects seem to misunderstand the essential character of the neighborhood around OPC’s desired site: it is residential and institutional, not full of vacant spaces awaiting development.  Unless the University converts its parking lot at 60th and Stony Island to commercial space, or unless Leon Finney’s Woodlawn Community Development Corporation demolishes some of its existing residential development along Stony Island between 60th and Hyde Park Academy, there simply is no space for restaurants and shops within any reasonable distance from the proposed OPC location.

Bottom line:  few if any minds were changed.  Next steps?  Expect the issue to be raised multiple times in many ways in the Section 106 /NEPA reviews now under way.

Darrow Bridge for sale?

The recent article about the Chicago Department of Transportation’s proposed sale of historic Darrow Bridge in Jackson Park is likely to be the beginning rather than the end of the story.  (Note: CDOT calls it the Columbia Bridge.) As recently as August, information available in a CDOT “charrette” focused on the bridge indicated that restoration plans were complete, funding was on hand, and all was moving ahead: not a word about a sale.  Darrow Bridge supporters and historic preservationists have now mobilized, seeking more information and looking for alternatives.  Stay tuned.

Year-end giving

If you are still thinking about year-end tax-deductible gifts, perhaps prompted by the new tax bill, consider a donation to Jackson Park Watch.  It is clear that the crucially important Section 106/NEPA reviews that have just begun will continue for many months, and that much is at stake.  Your donations help us bring outside expertise to maximize our effectiveness.  Your check can be sent to Jackson Park Watch, P.O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615.  We thank you!

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid
Co-presidents, Jackson Park Watch

Jackson Park Watch Action Alert – December 9, 2017

Greetings all,


While continuing to ignore the elephants in the room (the siting of the Obama Presidential Center, the proposed road closures/realignments, the proposed golf course consolidation/expansion), the Chicago Park District has now thrown a grab bag of new options into the mix at its latest round of open-house meetings. The second and last of these hastily announced presentations takes place this Monday, Dec. 11, from 6 to 9 pm at the South Shore Cultural Center. Doors open at 6; presentation at 6:30; open house follows. We urge you to attend!

As in prior meetings, there are a myriad of “boards” displaying possible layouts of the park, with staff posted at each. Specifically, we encourage you to discuss what you like and what you don’t with the staff (some from the Park District, some from the hired consultants). These in-depth discussions on individual park features are more significant than the overall general “vote” that attendees are asked to cast. It is not a question of choosing a single scenario but rather of identifying the desirable and preferred features in each (and tagging the undesirable ones as well).

The new options – packaged as three scenarios – range from bad (a revived “music pavilion” in scenarios one and two, one option locating it at Cornell Drive and 59th St.), to potentially useful (new walkways, a relocated dog park, a boardwalk along the lagoon near the Music Bridge), to intriguing but expensive (new water features in scenarios two and three, construction of a “point” in the lake at the 63rd St. beach). Attention to the details will be important.

The Park District is going to use feedback at these meetings in devising its next steps. While it is possible to view the boards and comment online, direct discussion is much more productive and powerful. This is one of those times when in-person input may carry real weight.

Please feel free to share this Action Alert widely.

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid
Co-founders, Jackson Park Watch

Jackson Park Watch Update – December 2, 2017

Greetings all,


·         OPC submission to Plan Commission pushed back, possible design changes to come, as Section 106 review process begins.

·         Park District schedules Open Houses for Dec. 7 and 11 on alternative recreation plans for Jackson Park – but OPC and proposed traffic changes still seen as driving Park planning.

Section 106 review process begins

On Thursday  the Sun-Times reported that the Obama Foundation would be delaying its submission to the Chicago Plan Commission for several months.  On Friday, at the kick-off meeting for the Section 106 review of the OPC and related proposals, there were signals that the Obama Foundation may be further changing its design plans:  Eleanor Gorski, Deputy Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Planning and Development and the lead facilitator of the Section 106 review process, said that she understands that the Obama Foundation may submit “refined” design plans early in 2018.  We will be on the lookout and will let you know!

The lack of clarity about schedules, designs and site footprints, and scope of the review was evident throughout the busy, two-hour meeting at the South Side Y Friday morning.  The meeting started with confusion as the organizers had apparently anticipated a much smaller group.  While those registered as consulting parties were directed to a conference room at the Y that held about 100, many others attendees were directed across the street to an overflow room at the Jackson Park Field House, where they could view the session via a video stream.   Eleanor Gorski gave a very useful PowerPoint presentation outlining both the Section 106 and the NEPA reviews, which are coordinated but separate in purpose and process.   The first step in the Section 106 review is the definition of the “area of potential effect” and the development of an inventory of historic resources in that area.   This first step, now underway, is expected to take several months, and the full Section 106 process could extend until the fall.  The NEPA review will parallel the Section 106 process, but its schedule has not yet been announced.  The HeraldTribune, and Sun-Times provide useful summaries and perspectives on the meeting.

Overall, we learned that there would be an extended review period, with many steps and meetings to be announced , but – as the question period revealed – it was not clear exactly what is to be reviewed and why the scope of the review process has been defined as it has.   Among the many questions posed (but not fully answered):

·         How can any review go forward before the OPC site footprint and its design plan are settled?

·         How can the closure of Marquette Drive and the construction of underpasses for the golf project be included in the review without also including all of the plans for the golf course merger?

·         Why is the South Shore Cultural Center not included in the area under review?

·         Why are parts of Woodlawn and Hyde Park and the entirety of Promontory Point appropriately  identified as “Areas of Potential Effect,” but areas of South Shore just south of 67th Street – including the Jackson Park Highlands historic district — not so designated?

·         In identifying historic resources in Jackson Park, should not Cornell Drive and Hayes Drive, which trace Olmsted’s design, be included, as well as his design for the natural plantings?

Also noted – with raised eyebrows — was the potential for conflict of interests.  Although the Federal Highway Administration is the lead federal agency for the overall review, the Section 106 review process is being directed by representatives of the City’s Department of Planning and Development and the Department of Transportation,  the agencies that are officially advocating for the designs that are now under review. Although we have been assured that such an arrangement is not uncommon, skepticism and unease were evident.


Park District Open Houses set for Dec. 7 and 11 — MARK YOUR CALENDARS

Thursday, December 7, AND  Monday, December 11
South Shore Cultural Center
7059 S. South Shore Drive
6:00pm – 9:00pm

With unfortunately little advance notice, the Park District has announced two open houses to consider “options for recreational and cultural park uses.”  While still claiming that the South Lakefront Framework plan is under development, the language in its news release indicates that the OPC and the attendant road closure/realignments are driving and circumscribing the park planning process – even while those plans themselves are in flux – rather than the other way around.  Nonetheless your participation and input about options for ball fields, nature areas, and golf options are important.  We urge you to attend one of the meetings and to voice your opinions of the options presented.

From the Park District press release November 30:

As part of its ongoing South Lakefront Framework Plan process that began in June, the Chicago Park District announced today that it will host another two community meetings to present and solicit community feedback on potential park uses and capital improvements to Jackson and South Shore Parks. These meetings will focus on options for the rest of the park systems, building on plans for the Obama Presidential Center and traffic mitigations that were previously presented to the public.

The meetings will be focused solely on the options for recreational and cultural park uses; no new information will be presented about the Obama Presidential Center itself or proposed transportation improvements. The meetings will be held on December 7 and December 11 at the South Shore Cultural Center, located at 7059 S. South Shore Dr., from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.


Thank you again! 

We have received generous tax-deductible donations from many and are grateful for the confidence placed in us.  We are putting the funds to work in the form of expert assistance for what we do.  As these reviews move forward, we will continue to gratefully accept checks sent to Jackson Park Watch, P.O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615.


As always, feel free to share this Update widely.

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid
Co-presidents, Jackson Park Watch

Jackson Park Watch Update 11 26 17

Greetings all,

As usual, a lot has been happening, including Thanksgiving! We hope you had an enjoyable one, with friends and family, good food, and many things to be thankful for.

In the interim since our 11/11 Update, much seems to have changed. Here is a run-down:

Plan Commission submission seemingly pushed back

The Obama Foundation has repeatedly said it would submit the Obama Presidential Center (OPC) proposal to the Chicago Plan Commission this calendar year. Now that seems to have changed. While all things are possible with Chicago politics, it is very unlikely that the OPC proposal will be submitted to the Plan Commission for consideration at its December 21 meeting. (Of course, we will continue to be vigilant.) Instead, it appears that the Plan Commission review may be delayed for several months and that the required historical and environmental reviews will start first.


Historical and environmental reviews pushed forward

The City Department of Planning and Development has posted a website with the disarming title of “Environmental Review of Jackson Park Improvements.” You may want to take a look.


After the initial (promotional) paragraphs there is useful information about both of these required reviews – the NEPA review, required under the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Section 106 review, required under the National Historic Preservation Act.

These very important reviews were first noted in a single poster board at the CDOT open houses in August, but there has been very little public discussion of them. Nonetheless, numerous interested groups including Jackson Park Watch have signed on as “consulting parties” for the Section 106 review, scheduled to start on an extremely short-time line, next Friday, December 1. (In fact, JPW is aware of some groups that have requested consulting party status but have not yet received their official invitations, raising questions about the feasibility of the Dec. 1 start date.)

In addition to JPW, other consulting parties that we are now aware of include FOTP, Preservation Chicago, Openlands, Landmarks Illinois, at least one national organization (The Cultural Landscape Foundation), and numerous other local organizations including the Midway Plaisance Advisory Council, Save the Midway and several members of the Community Benefits Agreement coalition. Consulting parties will be able to raise concerns and pursue questions. JPW is working on a statement of concerns for the initial Section 106 meeting, and we are in discussion with an attorney with expertise on Section 106 reviews, especially those related to historic properties such as Jackson Park.

Scrutiny of the maps sent with the official invitation to be a consulting party and available also on the City website shows several interesting and problematic features, among them these:

  • The maps depict the Obama Presidential Center buildings as located on the parkland it has most recently claimed despite the fact the portion of Jackson Park designated for use by the Obama Presidential Library (not Presidential Center) by the City Ordinance of March 2015 is not the same as that now desired by the Obama Foundation.
  • The maps depict the roadway work under review as including Marquette Drive, despite the fact that the proposed Marquette Drive closure has nothing to do with the OPC. (In fact, the Obama Foundation has several times said that the golf course consolidation/expansion project is not its project.) It appears that either the Marquette Drive closure should be severed from this Section 106/NEPA review, or the entire golf course consolidation/expansion project should be added in order to ensure that the golf course project does not escape these vital reviews.
  • The maps depict the current roads to be affected by CDOT’s plans but do not show the proposed reconfigurations.
  • The maps depict the main OPC building as being 220’ tall, which is 40’ higher than previously reported.

As noted on the City website, there will opportunities for broader public participation as well through the NEPA review process and additional meetings to be scheduled for the South Lakefront Framework Planning process. We will alert you to those public meetings as the schedules are announced.


What next?

Based on what we know at present, we anticipate that revisions to the OPC and CDOT proposals resulting from these concurrent reviews – if any – will then be submitted to the Plan Commission for approval. We will be sharing information about that schedule, ways of participating in the Plan Commission process and more when that time comes. We have been asked about the possibility of seeking a remedy in the courts if need be and would simply add that we are not there yet.


Thank you!

We have received generous tax-deductible donations from many and are grateful for the confidence placed in us. While we are comfortable with our current bank balance, it now appears that we will need to retain the services of two attorneys – one for the Section 106 process and one for the Plan Commission process – and perhaps a traffic consultant as well, so we may be making an urgent request for your financial support at some future point. In the meantime, we will continue to gratefully accept checks sent to Jackson Park Watch, P.O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615.


As always, feel free to share this Update widely.

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid
Co-presidents, Jackson Park Watch

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