By TONIA HILL
Members of the Midway Plaisance Advisory Council (MPAC) have announced that they are against the location of a proposed two-story above ground parking garage, for the Barack Obama Presidential Center (OPC) that will be situated between the Metra tracks and Stony Island Avenue under Midway Plaisance. The group said a parking structure could have a negative impact on the Midway and lead to pollution, traffic congestion, and critical public safety concerns.
The Obama Foundation revealed its proposed plans for a parking garage structure, which is above the grade of the present parkland at the eastern end of Midway Plaisance between 59th and 60th streets and Stony Island Avenue and the Metra Tracks, which would be able to hold about 400-450 cars. The facility will be covered and surrounded by a 3-4 acre park open to the public for use and include a picnic area, a children’s play area and other amenities. The structure would also include off-street bus drop-off and pick-up, bicycle parking, and a connection to Metra. The size of the site in total will be about 26 acres.
The Obama Foundation previously referred to the area as an “underutilized section of the Midway Plaisance across from the future site of the OPC.”
The MPAC, on Wednesday night, voted to adopt a resolution outlining their stance on the proposal during a meeting held at the Midway Plaisance Ice Rink, 1130 Midway Plaisance.
As stated in the resolution the MPAC opposes having the parking garage on the Midway and transferring Midway land to private entities.
MPAC members through the resolution urged the foundation, the city of Chicago, the Chicago Park District and the University of Chicago, who proposed the center’s location on the South Side to find an alternative site for the parking garage.
Marcy Schlessinger, a resident of Hyde Park, gave a “yes” vote on the resolution. She is not proposing an alternative site per se but wonders if the foundation has considered any other locations.
“I’m not trying to say where it should go,” Schlessinger said. “There are multiple alternative sites [in the area], and we learned from them that they haven’t even explored them. They haven’t made their case on why they selected this one.”
The group considers Midway to be “a vital connection between Jackson Park and Washington Park…a connection which would be severed by any taking of the Midway for private concern,” said Ray Lodato, a member of the PAC.
There is also the issue of a 2000 Chicago Park District Master Plan, which according to PAC members does not include the addition of a parking garage.
“The 2000 Chicago Park District framework plan which was completed with significant community input and support remains in place as a set of guiding principles,” Lodato said, “for the use and protection of the Midway and does not provide for a parking garage or bus staging area.”
In 2000, the Chicago Park District created a Midway Plaisance Master Plan based on input from the community.
Olin Partnership and Wolff Landscape Architecture, landscape architecture firms, consulted on the project and worked in conjunction with the Chicago Park District, the University of Chicago (U. of C.), and local community residents to develop a master plan for Midway Plaisance.
The master plan focused on four areas, “generating year-round activity and visitors; improving infrastructure; making the Midway beautiful during all four seasons; and managing the traffic flow,” according to the Chicago Park District.
The multi-year plan included designs for the Allison Davis Garden, a Winter Garden, Reader’s Garden, and an ice rink.
The end part of the master plans included discussion for a children’s garden that is the exact spot for the proposed parking structure.
The children’s garden, as well as other projects that were planned to be at the Midway, were stalled.
Also mentioned in the text of the master plan is a stated goal to preserve the vision of Frederick Law Olmsted who designed the park, in the later part of the 1800s.
The Midway Plaisance is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“The existing Cheney-Goode Memorial will be retained as part of the proposed redevelopment of this parkland,” said the foundation in a previous article in the Herald.
The group plans to present its resolution to state and local elected officials, the city, Obama Foundation and the University of Chicago, said Bronwyn Nichols Lodato, president of the MPAC.
The foundation is now moving through the process of submitting its plans to the Chicago Planning Commission and city council.
Margaret Schmid, a coordinator with Jackson Park Watch, voted in favor of the resolution she stated during the meeting that the foundation should slow down the process of submitting its proposal to the city.
“The Obama Foundation has refused to slow down and is moving as fast as it can with their own plan that does include the parking garage,” Schmid said.
The Chicago Park District is currently developing a new framework plan called the South Lakefront Framework Plan, an updated version of its 1999 framework plan that includes Jackson Park, Washington Park, and the South Shore Cultural Center.
The South Lakefront Framework Plan does not include Midway Plaisance, and it 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.
Based on feedback from the community the Park District has decided to slow down its process in completing a new framework plan and is working toward having a draft of the plan by early January 2018.
The City of Chicago owns Midway Plaisance. The foundation stated in the previous article in the Herald, pending approval by the city council, “the city would convey rights for parking to the Obama Foundation.”
To view the Midway Plaisance Master Plan visit http://www.chicagoparkdistrict.com/assets/1/7/Midway_Plaisance_2000.pdf