Residents voice concerns about park plans at resumed 5th Ward meeting

Staff Writer

The mood at the South Shore Cultural Center during the most recent community conversation regarding Jackson and South Shore parks on Thursday, July 13, differed from previous meetings held last month.

Attendees at the meeting were much more vocal about their displeasure for the upcoming plans for the Barack Obama Presidential Center (OPC) and renovations to the Jackson Park and South Shore golf courses.

As presentations from the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance (CPGA), the Barack Obama Foundation and the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) rolled through some residents made their opinions known by booing during portions of the presentations.

Thursday’s meeting was a follow-up meeting for area residents who were unable to attend Ald. Leslie Hairston’s (5th) ward meeting last month at La Rabida Children’s Hospital, 6501 S. Promontory Drive, due to the room’s lack of 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 brought up by members of the audience.

One of the biggest areas of contention is the road closures planned for the OPC that will be located near 60th Street and Stony Island Avenue.

Roadway closures for both projects in the park include Midway Plaisance (eastbound) between Stony Island Avenue, and Cornell Drive, Cornell Drive from 59th Street to Hayes Drive, Marquette Drive from Stony Island Avenue, to Richards Drive, and northbound from Cornell Avenue from 67th to 65th streets.

The consensus from residents present at Thursday’s meeting is that the closing of Cornell Drive, a six-lane road that runs through Jackson Park from 57th Street south to 67th Street, would not benefit drivers because of existing traffic patterns.

Hairston is also concerned about the implications that could come with roadway closures she noted how congested traffic is during the morning and afternoon hours southbound on Lake Shore Drive.

“It’s not just a matter of regulating the traffic lights,” Hairston said. “I have lived here long enough to see the lanes on Lake Shore Drive reduced to two when we did that rebuild in 1999.”

Hairston proposed adding an extra lane on 67th street.

“We are not going to be able to solve this by just changing the lights,” Hairston said. “67th street is one option that I talked about there’s a wide enough sidewalk where we could add a lane.”

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.

At the meeting held last month, a resident of Woodlawn asked if CDOT could commit to keeping travel times to no more than 10 minutes.

Rebekah Scheinfeld commissioner of CDOT said last month “we are early in the process. 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.”

Another topic that drew appeal from members of the audience was a desire for a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA).

Jawanza Malone, a member of Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO), asked about the reluctance to back a CBA.

Malone wants to ensure that there is accountability from the developers of the OPC, the Obama Foundation, the City of Chicago, the Chicago Park District and the University of Chicago, who proposed the center’s location on the South Side.

Jamie Clare Flaherty, director of strategic initiatives for the Obama Foundation, responded to Malone’s comment.

“We have an open door policy,” Flaherty said. “We have been in conversation with people who [have been] interested in signing a CBA for as long as the idea has been floating. The Presidential Center is a benefit. We are going to be integrating benefits into our contracts, our policies and the foundation and center. We think that’s the broadest way to tackle the complex issue of economic development.”

A CBA is a contract signed by community groups and a real estate developer that requires the developer to provide specific amenities and/or improvement to the local community or neighborhood.

Principles outlined by the Obama Library South Side Community Benefits Agreement would require jobs to be set-aside for people in the community, protect affordable housing and homeowners, support and create black-owned businesses, and strengthen neighborhood schools.

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.

The meetings have also started the planning process toward a new South Lakefront Framework plan, which will be an updated version of the 1999 framework plan that includes Jackson Park, Washington Park, and the South Shore Cultural Center.

Another hot button issue during the meeting was accessibility and lost recreation space as a result of renovations at the golf courses.

“What I don’t see is what is left for people to enjoy,” said Grand Crossing resident Lenore Jackson. “For those of us who don’t [golf] where will Jackson park stop for people who live south of the park now how far will we have to go to picnic?”

Brian Hogan, director of the CPGA, said the design team is looking at ways to incorporate green space while also maintaining the ratio of acreage at South Shore.

The design for golf course renovations calls for cutting off a portion of the nature sanctuary and removing the basketball courts, a set of tennis courts, and a soccer field.

At last month’s meeting, Gregg Calpino, principal landscape architect at Smith Group JJR said a portion of the nature center would be converted to golf course.

Margaret Schmid coordinator with Jackson Park Watch said in a previous article in the Herald, the group initially supported the idea of improving the golf course, but their stance changed due to the designs that are being proposed.

Schmid shared concerns on Thursday about the timeline for approval from the city on the project for renovating the golf courses.

The Obama Foundation hopes to present its plan to the planning commission this fall.

“The timeline that you all have set for this process is enormously short,” Schmid said. “If that’s going to happen there needs to be a very intense schedule of multiple meetings. It doesn’t seem possible to us to have a real genuine community focus if you’re going to get this done by October.”