We’re not buying this “Buy One Get One”

When we heard the news that the Obamas were considering Chicago as the possible home for the Barack Obama Presidential Center (OPC), south siders bought in. Residents, business owners and institution leaders from all across the south side willingly participated in a video where they exclaimed “bring it on home!” as the Sam Cooke song “Bring It On Home To Me” played in the background.

Yes we want the OPC, yes we know there will be changes made in the park in order to build the center but we just aren’t sure how the Jackson/South Shore Golf Course plan got in the mix.

What started out as introductory meetings organized by Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) between the community and Michael Strautmanis, vice president for Civic Engagement at the Obama Foundation and Michael Kelly, general superintendent and CEO of the Chicago Park District, about the OPC quickly turned from pleasant to frustrating.

An outsider, and there are plenty of them vying to be involved in this process, might be wondering why so many people in the community are becoming increasingly upset over something they advocated for. Everyone knew changes had to be made in order to install the OPC so why are there so many people attending meetings expressing their discontent with development? Because we’re being sold something we didn’t agree to buy-into.

Usually a “Buy One, Get One” (BOGO) offer is a treat because for the price of one you can choose another item that you like at little to no cost. Aside from the discussion on whether to shut down Cornell Drive we’ve been OK with the OPC buy-in, it’s our get one, which is supposed to be a coveted bonus, that we’re leery about.

Somewhere along the way, the plan for a golf course weaved its way into the OPC planning conversations. Obama expressed his love for the idea and it automatically became a part of the development conversation. Although both projects will be adjacent to each other in Jackson Park they are two very different projects and many have expressed concerns about them not being discussed separately.

These projects are not one in the same

Each project will be funded differently, which is one of the main reasons they should be discussed separately. The $500 million projected cost for the OPC will come from the fundraising efforts of the Obama Foundation while part of the $30 million cost for the golf course, which is being planned by the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance (CPGA) and designed by renowned Golfer Tiger Woods’ firm TGR Design, will come from tax payers ($24 million will be paid by private donors). The two pedestrian underpasses (at 67th Street and South Shore Drive and Marquette Drive and Jeffery Boulevard) planned for the access to the course are not included in the $30 million total.

When asked for details about the golf course, both Kelly and Rebekah Scheinfeld, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Transportation, are on the record for having said they could not speak in detail because “we are early in the process” with Kelly adding that he hopes to break ground by next spring or summer of 2018.

The community is frustrated by this answer because it’s insulting. No project of this magnitude is done on the fly. Before you put a shovel in the ground, give us the full details on all changes and taxpayer costs so that we can have real conversations and the time to make real changes if needed.

Jackson Park is not a blank canvas

Several essential parts of the park will have to be removed, moved or altered to accommodate the golf course redesign including a basketball court, track and field space, a dog park and a nature sanctuary. Several roads that help alleviate traffic from Lake Shore Drive such as parts of Marquette Drive may also be closed. These are elements of the park that are used and depended upon by neighboring schools, residents and visitors.

Local golfers feel alienated by this plan

Despite promises by the CPGA that this new course will still be accessible to local golfers, many residents from the park’s surrounding neighborhoods have stated that they are not falling for that line.

Local golfers have expressed concerns of rates skyrocketing, lack of access to the course during peak hours and a strict scheduling process that will take the fun out of impulsively contacting a few friends on a quiet Saturday morning and popping into the park to play golf.

Golfer Michael Gillespie said he believes it will lead to a class divide.

“I have golfed on both courses. I’ve played golf with many working class people,” said Gillespie, who said he is not in favor of the new golf course project. “Working class people could not afford the fee.”

Gillespie said “this is typical machine…politics, plan behind closed doors and shove it on the people.”

Solomon Humphries, who has golfed on both the Jackson Park and South Shore courses for about 10 years, said while it would be nice to have the courses upgraded it would be best if they remained separate courses.

“I’m not in favor of one big course it will cause disruption and increase the price,” Solomon said. “Upgrade one or both but keep them as two separate courses and keep the driving range and don’t close off streets.”

We also find it ironic that South Shore Country Club, once a whites-only club, will now be restored to a club that divides by class as opposed to race and to add gas to the fire it is being designed by Woods, who in his prime inspired many young African Americans to take interest in the sport. This includes many of those who live in the low – to – middle income neighborhoods that surround the club.

Make our golf course a true benefit

Show us how the golf course will be a benefit. Works with the community on the finished plan. Show us how the funding will come from the taxpayers before you put a shovel in the ground so the city can decide on spending. Have meetings that focus solely on the golf course, really listen to the concerns of the community, directly address all questions and ideas, and stay open to the idea of altering the plan if needed.