By TONIA HILL
The third installment of community conversations regarding Jackson and South Shore parks was presented at Ald. Leslie Hairston’s (5th) monthly ward meeting that was held at LaRabida Children’s Hospital, 6501 S. Promontory Drive, Tuesday, June 27.
The first set of meetings held last week at the South Shore Cultural Center and Hyde Park High School drew hundreds of residents who were eager to hear about updated plans for the Barack Obama Presidential Center (OPC) and the golf course renovations at the Jackson Park and South Shore golf courses.
Area residents who arrived 10 to 15 minutes before meeting time, were surprised to find that they would not be allowed inside of the hospital due to the size of the meeting space. The room could only accommodate about 75 people.
Gabriel Piemonte, a resident of Woodlawn and past editor of the Herald, was one of over 150 people who was turned away on Tuesday night. According to Piemonte, people were frustrated with the fact that they were being turned away.
“This whole thing is problematic a meeting topic that [drew] 600 people last week [and] she prepared a room for 75 people,” Piemonte said. He noted that topics such as rezoning on 71st Street and the OPC and golf courses were popular and important for the community to discuss and engage. “To me, that means that she doesn’t care.”
The meeting was set to start at 6 p.m., but the start time was delayed because of the mishap outside of the hospital.
Hairston’s staffers passed out sign-in sheets for people outside to fill out with their contact information so that they would receive notice from the alderman’s office about a future meeting.
Piemonte also claims that Chicago Police Officers were called to the area. Police told people outside the hospital to disperse because they were in the way of entrances to the hospital.
Hairston said she was not aware of that as she was inside the building by that point.
She did say that police were already in the area on bike patrol.
At the start of the meeting, just before 6:30 p.m., Hairston addressed the mishap to a packed room at LaRabida.
“The turnout was larger than anticipated,” Hairston said. “The calendar is put out in January. We already have the places [spaces for the meetings] picked out, and we don’t necessarily know the topic, that’s how this happened.”
The purpose of the community conversations is two-fold to gain feedback from the community about the future of Jackson and South Shore Parks with the addition of the OPC and to discuss other plans for park-related improvements.
Furthermore, the meetings were the kick off a planning process for a new South Lakefront Framework, which will be an updated version of the 1999 framework plan that includes Jackson Park, Washington Park, and South Shore Cultural Center.
The framework plan will first focus on the changes to Jackson and South Shore Parks, “with a discussion about Washington Park to be held at a later date,” said the Chicago Park District in a written statement.
Residents listened attentively to presentations from the Park District, Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT), and the Obama Foundation.
At the ward meeting, the crowd did not split apart for breakout sessions instead attendees were able to make comments and ask questions without moving to another space.
Parking, road closures, crime, employment opportunities, the nature sanctuary along the grounds of the South Shore Cultural Center and accessibility were just some of the areas that were that were brought up by members of the audience.
Roadway closures for both projects in the park include Midway Plaisance (eastbound) between Stony Island Avenue, and Cornell Drive, Cornell Drive from 59th to Hayes Drive, Marquette Drive from Stony Island Avenue, to Richards Drive, and northbound from Cornell Avenue from 67th to 65th streets.
CDOT hopes to counter the closures by improving Lake Shore Drive, Hayes Drive, and intersections to accommodate diverted traffic.
Additionally, reconfiguring traffic flow and safety where Midway meets Stony Island Avenue, as well as improving Stony Island Avenue to balance needs for people walking, driving, taking transit, biking, and parking.
“Cornell Drive was closed for two days maybe two years ago, and I timed getting access to Lake Shore Drive at 57th and Lake Shore Drive, and it took about 12 minutes,” said Melanie Moore, a resident of Woodlawn. “Can you guys commit that you’re not going to add more than 10 minutes to our commute? We’re just trying to go to work.”
Rebekah Scheinfeld commissioner of CDOT responded to Moore’s comment.
“We are early in the process,” Scheinfeld said. “At this point based on our review, we are confident that we can minimize travel time impacts and our goal continues to be to match current travel times or better.”
Stephen Carter South Shore resident wants the Obama Foundation to consider adding transportation within the campus for the OPC.
“When the library is finished I’ll be close to 80,” Carter said. “There was a time when I could walk or bike around this campus. There needs to be some sort interior transportation within the campus so that seniors like me can get around much more easily.”
The Obama Foundation released the conceptual vision and site map for the structure, last month. It will house a library holding the presidential archives, a museum focusing on the Obama presidency, and space for programs and initiatives that advance the foundation’s public mission.
The design concept includes three buildings: the museum, forum, and library. The buildings will form a campus surrounding a public plaza and will include a state-of-the-art museum, classrooms, labs, and outdoor spaces. The center will offer programming for visitors intended to provide the tools necessary to spark change in their communities.
On Tuesday Jamie Clare Flaherty, director of strategic initiatives for the Obama Foundation introduced other items.
New elements that were discussed included an adventure play area; sledding hill, which was proposed by Michelle Obama; public lawn space for outdoor activities; a relocated Jackson Park track and field; pedestrian bridge; library; and community garden.
Flaherty reiterated that the Obamas want the OPC to be accessible for all.
A point of contention at Tuesday’s meeting involved the nature sanctuary.
“While we supported the idea of improving the golf course we oppose the golf course that is now being proposed,” said Margaret Schmid, coordinator of Jackson Park Watch, “The expanded design it’s not in the existing footprint and it takes out many existing recreational areas.”
Schmid said the design for the golf course calls for cutting out the basketball courts, two sets of tennis courts, a soccer field, as well as the nature sanctuary.
“A portion of the nature center would be converted to golf,” said Gregg Calpino, principal landscape architect at Smith Group JJR.
Hairston talked about what the area looked like before the nature sanctuary was added.
“It was nothing but brush, weeds, and trees and I thought it was ugly,” Hairston said.
She said that she shared her thoughts on the area with then Mayor Richard M. Daley.
“That’s when we created that sanctuary that was not something that was there,” Hairston said. “I could just see somebody’s child dragged back there and it was just not a good thing to have on the beach. It was not there all along we did it as an enhancement.”
Louise McCurry president of the Jackson Park Advisory Council is excited about the prospect of a family golf course and adventure play area that will be placed at the OPC.
“It’s about the kids,” McCurry said. “There’s a whole group of kids who are out on the streets and don’t have a lot of places to go.”
Hairston said an additional meeting will be planned for those who weren’t able to get into the meeting on Tuesday.