East Hyde Park Committee discusses OPC roadway issue

George Kotnour, Jr. chairs an East Hyde Park Committee meeting, during which road changes proposed for Jackson Park associated with the development of the Obama Presidential Center and the Tiger Woods designed PGA-championship-level golf course were discussed, at Montgomery Place, 5550 S. South Shore Drive, Wednesday, Sept. 20. – Marc Monaghan

Staff Writer

Members of the East Hyde Park Committee gathered last week at Montgomery Place, 5500 S. Shore Dr., to discuss updates on the future Barack Obama Presidential Center (OPC) that will be situated in Jackson Park.

At the group’s meeting in May, its members were not sold on the closure of Cornell Drive.

The consensus of the group was 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 Hyde Park residents because of existing traffic patterns.

George Kotnour, organizer for the East Hyde Park Committee, said in a previous article in the Herald that drivers already pack side streets to avoid traffic on Lake Shore Drive near the Museum of Science and Industry, 5700 S. Lake Shore Drive, intersection.

Since then, the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) alongside the City of Chicago, Chicago Park District, and the Barack Obama Foundation hosted community meetings during the summer months laying out plans for the OPC and other park-related developments.

Proposed roadway closures for both the OPC and golf course renovations 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.

Now that more information has been made public by CDOT, Kotnour is cautiously optimistic about CDOT’s plans to offset roadway closures.

“It [re-configurations for traffic] will maybe move congestion down the street. We’re just pushing the problem further down south,” Kotnour said.

“It seems to me to have been approached and discussed rationally, and it looks like the eventual plan should be a good one,” said Chuck West, Montgomery Place resident. “I’m crossing my fingers and hoping for the best.”

CDOT is proposing improving Lake Shore Drive, Hayes Drive, and other intersections to accommodate diverted traffic.

The proposal outlines adding one southbound lane on Lake Shore Drive from 57th Street to Hayes Drive, a signal controlled crosswalk at Richards Drive, and reducing on-street parking to add two travel lanes.

Additionally, the proposal calls for adding two lanes to Stony Island Avenue from 59th Street to 63rd Street, maintaining on-street parking and loading areas.

The concept design for the golf course calls for two underpasses one at South Jeffrey Boulevard and another at South Shore Drive.

Myra Iwagami, Hyde Park resident, is not in favor having the OPC in Jackson Park.

“I think they would have had more freedom in Washington Park. The area just south needs economic growth,” Iwagami said. “When they talk about economic growth in Woodlawn a piece of it is I’m sure is owned by the [University of Chicago]. There will be an awful lot of gentrifying between the university and the library. It’s not a matter of just displacing people it’s a matter of taxing among other things.”

The design concept includes three buildings: the museum, forum, and library. The buildings will form a campus surrounding a public plaza.

The OPC will include a state-of-the-art museum, classrooms, labs, and outdoor spaces, and it will conduct programming for visitors intended to provide the tools necessary to spark change in their communities.

The museum, which is the tallest of the three buildings, will hold exhibition space, public spaces, offices and education and meeting rooms.

The forum and library buildings will be community resources for study and foundation programming.

Both the forum and the library will be single-story structures with planted roof terraces.

Groundbreaking for the OPC is set to begin late next summer, and it is expected to open to the public in 2021.