By ANDREW HOLZMAN
The resignation of Jesse Jackson Jr. from his position as congressman for the second district, which covers parts of the 5th Ward, means for some the loss of an ally whose vision for Promontory Point Park, 5491 S. Lake Shore Drive, has in the past clashed with the city’s most powerful forces. Local officials agreed, though, that the project would remain a priority.
State Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (D-25) was confident about finding a plan for the park’s renovation that would please all parties in an e-mail conversation.
“I’m sure the next congressman from the 2nd District will pick up the cudgels with respect to the revetment work at Promontory Point. I know I will work for that outcome … I am hopeful we can find a design that is consistent with the current configuration— but that won’t disintegrate into Lake Michigan,” she said.
Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) agreed, saying that she anticipates talking to whomever is elected about the work, which is “at the top” of her list for federal projects.
In 2001, the city began a project to overhaul the Point’s loose retaining wall, or revetment. Much of the shoreline abutting Lake Shore Drive had already been reinforced with a concrete sea-wall-like structure, and the city, using a combination of federal, state and local money, intended to work with the Army Corps of Engineers to give the park a similar design. Some in the community, though, worried that leaders had been too hasty.
“We were advocating for a public voice in this $26 million project,” said Greg Lane, who served as communications director for the Community Task Force for Promontory Point, an organization seeking to preserve the park. “The park has a federal status; agencies need to seek public input before beginning work.”
Lane said that the plan, which would have replaced the existing limestone wall with a concrete one, risked changing the character of the park and restricting access to the lake. Because it had the support of then-Mayor Richard M. Daley, though, Lane said he thought the plan might simply be “pushed through by night.”
“What we needed was a representative who had power, who could stand up to what many people said was the second most powerful person in the country,” Lane said.
Activists for the project agreed that Jackson provided that voice. Both Lane and Jack Spicer, who has also been a part of response to the project since its inception, recounted their first meeting with Jackson in separate interviews with the Herald.
“[Jackson] seemed to have an intuitive understanding of the problem,” Spicer said. “He told us: ‘I know about the project and I’m on your side. Let’s talk about what I can do for you.’”
Lane, recalling the same interaction with Jackson, said, “I had never heard that from a politician before, and never have since. He expressed that and acted on it for years.”
Jackson provided a voice for Spicer, Lane and their supporters in Congress. Working with then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, he managed to slow down the Army Corps’ work, bringing the project back to the drawing board at public hearings.
“The will was there,” Spicer said, “with Jackson and Senator Obama, to do it right.”
Work is now on hold, and the Army Corps is expected to decide that the project does not need to be taken on immediately, and that funding can be found for a different solution. Without Jackson in congress, it is unclear who will take on the task of moving the project through the federal process, appropriating funds for the necessary studies and finally for construction. Spicer, though, was confident that the same grassroots effort which brought the issue to Jackson’s desk would keep it in motion after the election to replace him.
“All the work filtered up to Jackson, he was already aware [when we came to him],” he said. “Will the new congressman be sympathetic? Well we’ll have to talk to him or her, but I hope so. I also hope [Hairston] and [Currie] will talk to the new congressman and say this is a priority.”
Though both Hairston and Currie told the Herald they wanted to see a design consistent with the current feel of the park, they saw more urgency than Spicer, who said, “In general, I’d say that in 2000 the Army Corps told us that the Point was in danger of imminent collapse and that water would be washing Lake Shore Drive away in 2002, but the overall plan is that we’d like to have it preserved.”