$10M plan for Jackson Park

Assistant to the Editor

Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) called a public meeting last Monday to unveil a proposal to build a multimillion-dollar visitors center in Jackson Park.

Chicago lawyer Robert W. Karr Jr., who is spearheading the project, shared details alongside designer Kulapat Yatrasast, of Culver City, Calif.-based wHY Architecture. Karr is a board member of the non-profit Garden of the Phoenix Foundation, which coordinated the recent planting of more than 120 cherry trees around Jackson Park’s Osaka Garden with the Chicago Park District (CPD).

The visitors center is part of a new framework for the park, entitled “Project 120.” The framework, which would be Jackson Park’s first since 2002, is being drafted by an eponymous non-profit headed by Karr. He says the document will guide park improvements — including to its lighting, signage and landscaping — inspired by architect Frederick Law Olmstead’s 1895 plans for the space.

“One of the things that we’re doing right now is actually analyzing the cost,” Karr said Monday, adding that the “project is in excess of $10 million.”

Project 120’s proposed visitors center would sit on the east side of Clarence Darrow Bridge, on the current site of a parking lot. It could house an information center, bathrooms, cafe and performance stage, according to Yastrasast, who described the building as resembling a phoenix rising from the ashes.

“That would be the location that is the hub, that could connect to the Midway, all the way to the Lake,” Yastrasast said at last week’s meeting.

Karr aims for the Project 120 framework to be complete by March 2014.

Registered in Aug. 2013, Project 120 has four board members: Karr is joined by U. of C. alum William Flordia, vice president of investment firm Advisory Research Inc.; Dayne Kono, director of law firm Masuda, Funai, Eifert and Mitchell; and Kumiko Watanabe, national leader of accounting network Grant Thornton’s Japan Business Group.

To develop the framework, Karr said, the group has received several donations including one six-figure sum. Chicago-based firm Project Management Advisers is providing pro bono analysis of the cost to implement the framework, which Karr expects to have by the end of this year.

Project 120 is not yet accepting donations for park improvements, which would be from private donors. “The goal of this is not for this to become a taxpayer liability, but to become a public-private partnership,” Karr said, adding that “the intent is to make improvements in the park that do not increase the obligations or put stress on the park district.”

“When we start looking at what the architecture’s going to cost, what actually has to be done, then we’ll start being able to talk about the cost,” Hairston said. “This is not something that is totally done and complete.”

Project 120 will head to the CPD for approval following its completion.

“Well-defined plans have been presented, but these will need to be vetted through the community process,” said Adam Schwerner, director of cultural and natural resources at CPD.

For more information and updates, visit project120chicago.org.