By GAUTAMA MEHTA
On Thursday, July 27, representatives of the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance discussed their plans for a proposed golf course redesign in South Shore and Jackson Parks with South Shore business owners and residents at the most recent monthly meeting of the South Shore Chamber of Commerce.
Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) attended and spoke at the meeting.
The meeting’s attendees, while skeptical of aspects of the planning process, generally showed more support for the project than was displayed at the series of meetings recently held to solicit community input for the golf course and Obama Presidential Center plans, said Mary Ellen Holt, a member of the South Shore Chamber of Commerce. It was “a very different meeting from the other ones,” she said after the meeting, adding that “people were really frustrated” at the earlier meetings.
Prominent educator Carol Adams, who is the community engagement representative for the proposed redesign, emphasized her local roots to give credibility to her support for the project. Adams, who is a former president of DuSable Museum, said she had lived in South Shore since 1970, and cited her involvement in the 1970s with the “Coalition to Save the South Shore Country Club” (which successfully advocated to stop the Parks District from demolishing the building now housing the South Shore Cultural Center) to attest to her commitment to the park and surrounding community.
She made her case for the golf course redesign speaking as a homeowner in the community who had seen the neighborhood’s property values plummet and wanted to see them rise again.
Adams also emphasized that she understood the community members’ skepticism, but sought to reassure them.
“Is this all being arranged and prepared for other people? Nothing could be further from the truth,” she said at the meeting.
Adams said the golf course restoration would benefit users of South Shore Cultural Center, because “the golfing will be out.” Currently, golf course operations are housed in the cultural center; in the proposed plan, they will be moved to a separate facility. Adams said this move would increase opportunities for “using the cultural center the way that those of us who fought for it thought it should be used: as a cultural center, not a wedding venue.”
Brian Hogan, co-founding director of the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance, said, “If there’s one word we could remove from the discussion, it would be ‘elite.’” He said that local golfers and longtime users of the existing golf course would be able to play at discounted prices subsidized by high prices for players from out of town. Two golfers in the room disputed the feasibility of this policy.
Hogan said the CPGA expected to raise $30 million in private charitable donations to fund the golf course restoration. He also said the construction of the new course would provide employment opportunities for locals, and said job postings would all be advertised on the CPGA website (www.chicagoparksgolfalliance.org), where a “Marketing and Communications Associate” position is currently listed.
Hogan said the number of job opportunities at the new golf course would be significantly higher than at the existing courses, which has relatively few employees on site on a daily basis. And he said the new course would benefit 71st Street businesses because players would be interested in getting a meal or a drink nearby before or after playing. “Keeping people here and bringing more people here into the neighborhood” is a priority, Hogan said.
This was disputed by Holt, who noted that the new entrance to the golf course in the proposed design was on 63rd Street, not 71st Street, where the entrance to the South Shore Golf Course is currently located.
Several of the meeting’s attendees voiced their shared concern regarding participation in the planning process.
“We simply don’t want to be left out of the loop when it comes to marketing and development strategies,” said one 71st Street business owner, who noted that he was generally supportive of the project, adding, “We need traffic over here, period.”
“We need to be heard, and we need not to be pushed to the side,” said the business owner.
Flora Digby, another attendee at the meeting, said, “I think many of us are very excited about the change; we’d just like to participate in it.”
Ward Miller, the executive director of Preservation Chicago, a non-profit that advocates for the preservation of historic architecture, said, “We’re really concerned about the impact on the Frederick Law Olmsted landscape.”
“Would they do this in Central Park in New York, designed by Olmsted? Would New Yorkers go for this?” Miller asked rhetorically. He said he hoped for a “commitment to restore all those historic structures” from the developers, and also asked about how many trees would be cut down for the new development.
In response, Hogan said there was an ongoing “tree census,” a survey of which of the existing trees were original and which were invasive species. He also said that the development would operate according to a one-to-one tree replacement guideline. And he cited lead design consultant Beau Welling’s experience working on an Olmsted-designed property, the Biltmore Estate, to allay concerns that the development would disregard the historic importance of the park design.
“The goal is to uplift our community, the thousands of people who have left our community: to attract them back,” Hairston said of the development. “This has never been done in history. The Presidential Center has never been done in an urban setting.”
Hairston also injected some levity into the discussion.
“I’ve never designed a golf course, as a matter of fact I’ve been asked to get off of some golf courses,” she said to laughter. “I know where my skill set is and where it isn’t. I could do some cartwheels on the green—but that was years ago.”