By SAM RAPPAPORT
Over 100 South Side residents crowded into a small event room at La Rabida Children’s Hospital, 6501 S. Promontory Dr., on Tuesday, May 31, hoping to get clarity on future projects slated for Jackson Park.
Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) called the meeting in response to a growing number of community residents who have felt shut out of the decision-making process surrounding Jackson Park revamps.
“A lot of information is going around and I wanted to make sure we’re all on the same page,” Hairston said at the outset of the meeting.
Project 120, a non-profit organization led by Chicago lawyer Bob Karr, has been at the center of the muddle. In 2013, Project 120 began partnering with the Chicago Park District to raise funds for Jackson Park revitalization efforts and to develop framework plans aimed at restoring the original vision of park designer Frederick Law Olmsted.
Recently, Project 120’s proposed Phoenix Pavilion, which would act as an art exhibition and performance space just south of the Museum of Science and Industry, has been a significant point of contention amongst Hyde Park residents.
Both Bob Karr and Chicago Park District General Superintendent and CEO Michael Kelly were in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting.
Kelly repeatedly assured the meeting’s attendees that neither he nor Karr were interested in bypassing the community in making plans for Jackson Park.
“Nothing is done,” Kelly said. “If I walk out of here and nobody wants to do anything, I’m cool with that. I’m here to listen.”
Heather Gleason, Director of Planning and Construction for the park district, said that the proposed Phoenix Pavilion would take up 15,000 square ft., the equivalent of two and a half tennis courts.
She also said that, despite Project 120’s recent involvement in the proposal, a music performance space has been in the park district’s plans for a while.
“This is intended just to be a small building, a meeting space, restroom space and art exhibition and performance space,” Gleason said.
Kelly chimed in, “It’s really conceptual and just an idea at this point.”
Hyde Park resident Margaret Schmid echoed the concerns of many when she confronted Kelly about the parking spaces that the Phoenix Pavilion would infringe upon.
“What happens to the parking that this pavilion would take up?” She said.
Again, Kelly responded by saying that he had no intention of inconveniencing the community.
“The answer on parking is simple, if the community needs more parking, so be it,” he said. “I don’t want to take away parking.”
Some residents at the meeting took issue with the idea of any construction projects whatsoever in the park.
“I don’t understand why, in one of the remaining nature preserves in Chicago, we need any more buildings,” said Hyde Park resident Eric Ginsburg.
Chuck Staples, another Hyde Park resident, built upon Ginsburg’s comment.
“I don’t think we should get in the business of crowd gathering things,” he said.
Hyde Park author Sara Paretsky said that the park district should be focusing on park maintenance instead of development projects.
“If there were money available for maintenance the park would look good as it is,” Paretsky said.
South Shore resident Karon Hamlet seemed to be the only person at Tuesday’s meeting that showed support for Project 120’s involvement in Jackson Park. She welcomed the idea of the Phoenix Pavilion, saying it would provide South Shore residents with a much-needed cultural destination.
“I’m in the minority here but I really like the ideas of Project 120,” Hamlet said. “I’m tired of having to go into Hyde Park for art, food, and entertainment.”
Hamlet also said that she felt that older Hyde Park residents were overrepresented at Tuesday’s meeting
“For my age group, I think this will be a good thing,” she said. “I think we have to have a little give and take.”