Friends of the Park opposes OPC parking garage, joins Obama CBA Coalition

By TONIA HILL
Staff Writer

 

Friends of the Parks (FOP) is aligning itself with local causes related to the Barack Obama Presidential Center (OPC) in Jackson Park.

Today, the group announced that they oppose the above ground parking garage for the OPC, slated to be built on the east end of Midway Plaisance Park, 1130 Midway Plaisance; support the campaign to “Save the Midway;” and will be an ally for the Obama Library South Side Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) Coalition.

The Obama Foundation revealed its proposed plans for a parking garage structure, which is above the grade of the present parkland at the eastern end of Midway Plaisance between 59th and 60th streets and Stony Island Avenue and the Metra Tracks, which would be able to hold about 400-450 cars. The facility will be covered and surrounded by a 3-4 acre park open to the public for use and include a picnic area, a children’s play area and other amenities. The structure would also include off-street bus drop-off and pick-up, bicycle parking, and a connection to Metra.

“This would be a further reduction in park acreage and marks an unacceptable usurpation of parkland,” said Hyde Park resident and FOP Board Chairwoman Lauren Moltz in a written statement. “As part of community meetings toward the development of the South Lakefront Framework Plan, community members have noted the need for additional parking to facilitate their access to various park amenities. The parking garage should be built underground and closer to these amenities so as to enhance rather than detract from the park.”

Last week, Hyde Park residents Michael McNamee and Karen Rechtschaffen launched a campaign to “Save the Midway” in response to the foundation’s parking proposal.

They are urging the public through the campaign to take action to protect the vision of Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed the park to protect the national treasure on the National Register, and to reject the parking garage and bus terminal proposals.

Save the Midway created petitions to keep the Midway as open and clear parkland free of a parking garage.

The group is also collecting signatures online, in person, and through a virtual postcard opposing the parking garage.

“Friends of the Parks has welcomed the Obama Presidential Center to Chicago but has vociferously maintained that it should not be in a park, suggesting that it be located instead on vacant land across the street from Washington Park,” said FOP in a written statement.

FOP is also now an ally for the CBA Coalition to “further strengthen the call for the replacement of all green space taken up by the Obama Presidential Center and the replacement of all recreational facilities that are threatened with displacement by any and all Jackson Park revitalization proposals,” said FOP in a written statement.

The CBA Coalition has said that they would present their request for an ordinance to the Chicago City Council that would, by law compel the Obama Foundation and related entities to enter into a CBA for the OPC.

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

Organizers through a CBA are attempting to get what the Obama Foundation has promised to the community in writing.

The ordinance is the latest push by the coalition after former President Barack Obama indicated that the Obama Foundation would not sign a CBA.

The coalition is calling for jobs to be set-aside for people in the community, protection for affordable housing and homeowners, support for and help with the creation of black-owned businesses, and help with strengthening neighborhood schools.

The two conflict because the Obama Foundation believes that it can meet the needs of the community without a CBA while organizers believe a CBA, is necessary and will be an added protection to ensure that foundation honors its commitment.

“Supporting the ‘Sustainability and Transportation’ platform of the CBA Coalition’s proposed Community Benefits Agreement is consistent with our mission and speaks to Friends of the Parks’ active engagement with many voices in the community impacted by the Obama Presidential Center,” said Juanita Irizarry, executive director of FOP. “We continue to use our position to call for transparency around a host of park-related issues and the engagement of local voices in order to make good decisions concerning Jackson Park and South Shore Park ‘revitalization.’ We also call on the Obama Foundation to fully live up to its stated mission of promoting civic engagement in public conversations such as these.”

Also, FOP, today announced that it has formalized its relationship with Jackson Park Watch (JPW).

FOP recently approved JPW’s application to operate under FOP’s fiscal sponsorship.

JPW is a community-wide initiative founded by Hyde Park residents Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid last year. The organization consists of individuals and groups with a shared commitment to Jackson Park. Principles outlined by JPW include transparency in decision-making about the park, meaningful community input changes to the park, preservation of the park as a democratic public space and development of one comprehensive plan for the entire park.

t.hill@hpherald.com