Residents show up in large number for Jackson, South Shore parks meeting

A rendering of the proposed street closures for the Obama Presidential Center and the golf courses planned for Jackson and South Shore parks -Photo courtesy of the Chicago Department of Transportation

Staff Writer

Residents in communities surrounding the Jackson and South Shore Parks came out in droves, Wednesday evening, June 21, to hear updates on the forthcoming Barack Obama Presidential Center (OPC) and plans for the Jackson Park and South Shore golf courses.

Wednesday was the first in a series of community conversations that will be held and hosted this week by the city and the Chicago Park District.

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.

Juanita Irizarry, executive director of the Friends of the Park, has been calling for a new framework plan to include and consider all of the other major projects taking place in the park.

“We do consider this a small “v” [for “victory”] the idea of the framework plan being updated,” Irizarry said. “Three community conversations that only had a few days notice doesn’t seem like the best process. We’ve been told that this is just the beginning. We will be watching and asking questions about what comes after these first three meetings. We hope that it’s more than just these three conversations.”

Residents listened attentively to presentations from the Park District, Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT), and the Obama Foundation.

Michael Strautmanis, vice president of Civic Engagement for the Obama Foundation reiterated the vision for the OPC.

The Obamas want it to be more than a building or a museum, “[It] will be a living, working center for engagement — an ongoing project for the community and world to shape what it means to be an active citizen in the 21st century,” according to a May 3 article in the Herald.

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 Wednesday, Strautmanis introduced other items that will be included, an adventure play area, sledding hill [that was proposed by Michelle Obama], public lawn space for outdoor activities; a relocated Jackson Park track and field, pedestrian bridge, library, and community garden.

Strautmanis laid out the goals for the design principle that is to “give more people more ways to use the park and improve their experience while they are there.

“To connect and create a more cohesive park, not one that’s chopped up, but one where you can walk through and have one cohesive park experience that restores connectivity to Lake Michigan,” Strautmanis said.

Design plans were also introduced for the upcoming renovations for the Jackson and South Shore golf courses.

Tiger Woods, a career professional golf player, will be overseeing the renovations for the new $30 million golf complex. The courses will be transformed and combined into a single 18-hole championship course and a shorter course.

Woods’ TGR Design will revamp the two courses to host premium Professional Golfers Association (PGA) tour events such as the BMW Championship.

“The golf course still exists within the historical context that it had previously, said Beau Welling senior design consultant for TGR.

Welling said the merger of the courses would provide extra space that will allow for the area to be developed into a short course for youth and family.

The concept design also calls for two underpasses under South Jeffrey Boulevard and at South Shore Drive.

“There will be no more golf starting and stopping on South Shore,” Welling said. “Underpasses will be developed under Jeffrey [Boulevard] for safety as well as to make the golf experience more seamless.”

He added that the second underpass at South Shore would benefit golfers and the community at large who use the intersection to access the lakefront.

Mark Rolfing, founder and president of the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance (CPGA) and television and golf commentator at NBC, said he is pleased with the progress made thus far.

“Our goal is to stage the 2021 BMW Championship right here on this new course,” Rolfing said.

The CPGA is a newly formed non-profit that is charged with funding the project as well as creating pathways to expand youth golf programs.

Groundbreaking for the golf course will not begin as of yet, according to Rolfing, but in the next few months prep work, which includes cleaning in around brush areas, will begin.

“The shoreline is in desperate need of some repair, so they’ve [engineers] been working on that and how that can coordinate with this project,” Rolfing said.

In January, the park district board agreed on an initial contract of just over $1 million to start research and engineering design for the $30 million project.

Possible road closures were met with concern from residents.

“We would like to believe that whatever is going to happen would be based on actual numbers,” said Margaret Schmid coordinator with Jackson Park Watch. “So that it’s feasible and it will enhance access to the Obama Presidential Center rather than creating massive traffic jams.”

Rebekah Scheinfeld commissioner for CDOT revealed that the department is assessing roadways from the design plans that will require closing sections of roadway, “and reorganizing traffic patterns through and around the park,” she said.

“A portion of Cornell Drive will be closed from the north end of the Midway Plaisance near 59th Street down to Hayes Drive,” Scheinfeld said. “The short segment of the Midway that is currently eastbound between Stony and Cornell would also be closed.”

Other roadway closures include Marquette Drive [67th Street] from Richards Drive to Stony Island. Only a portion of Marquette Drive and Richards Drive would remain open from Hayes Drive to Jeffrey Boulevard.

“Closures have been proposed under the previous framework plans [1999 Framework Plan] this in large part stems from the longstanding continuing desire to reintegrate the park,” Scheinfeld said, “removing roads that currently divide up the park in some places into smaller less functional spaces.”

A couple of solutions mentioned by CDOT would make Lake Shore Drive and Hayes Drive two roads that would become the primary traffic connection between Lake Shore Drive and Stony Island Avenue. This would also accommodate the closure of Cornell Drive north of Hayes Drive.

Commuters who are traveling through Jackson Park and not going to the park will remain on Lake Shore Drive and Hayes Drive, “instead of diverting to the west along Stony Island Avenue or further into the neighborhood,” Scheinfeld said.

More turning lanes and signals would be included to support the additional traffic.

Scheinfeld said the department would maintain the connection for eastbound traffic along 57th Street and Lake Shore Drive by “converting the north connection between Stony and Cornell that is currently westbound into a two-way roadway.”

Theodore Manuel, Hyde Park resident, is not against the OPC but feels that more information should be given to the community.

“It seems like a done deal, even though they say, it’s not,” Manuel said. “They came half-baked, half prepared. It did not get down to real rock solid issues and that’s not what you call transparency. That’s not what you call being forthcoming, that sounds like another shady deal.”

A second meeting will be held at Hyde Park High School, 6220 S. Stony Island Ave., on Saturday, June 24, from 10 a.m. to noon.