MPAC revisits framework plan in the wake of new development in and around the Midway

Staff Writer

A special committee within the advisory council of the Midway Plaisance has been formed and over the next few months plan to revisit the 2000 Framework Plan for the park in the wake of development that is on the horizon in neighboring Jackson Park and on the Midway.

In 2000, the Chicago Park District created a Midway Plaisance Master Plan (or framework plan) based on input from the community.

Olin Partnership and Wolff Landscape Architecture, landscape architecture firms, consulted on the project and worked in conjunction with the Chicago Park District, the University of Chicago, and local community residents to develop the master plan for Midway Plaisance.

The master plan focused on four areas, “generating year-round activity and visitors; improving infrastructure; making the Midway beautiful during all four seasons; and managing the traffic flow,” according to the Chicago Park District.

The multi-year plan featured about 20 projects including designs for the Allison Davis Garden, a Winter Garden, Reader’s Garden, and an ice rink. Some but not all of the projects were implemented in the Park.

For example, the winter garden, a garden outside the law school was completed as well as the ice rink and icehouse on the Midway.

One specific project that is of concern to the members of the committee is a proposed children’s garden.

Some members who were a part of the planning process for the 2000 master plan claim that the end part of the master plans included discussion for a children’s garden that is in the exact spot that the Obama Foundation is considering for an above ground parking garage steps away from the Obama Center.

“The 2000 Chicago Park District framework plan which was completed with significant community input and support remains in place as a set of guiding principles for the use and protection of the Midway and does not provide for a parking garage or bus staging area,” said Ray Lodato, a member of the PAC in a previous article in the Herald.
The Herald reached out to the Park District for comment on whether on not the location for the proposed parking garage conflicts with the master plan location for the children’s garden.

In an email to the Herald a Park District spokeswoman stated “We determined that the parking structure is not planned for the site proposed for the Children’s Garden in the 2000 Framework Plan. According to the 2000 Midway Plaisance Master Plan, the Children’s Garden Playground was to be built directly across from the University of Chicago’s School of Social Services Administration, near E. 60th St. and S. Ellis Ave.”

In October, the MPAC voiced its opposition for the parking garage through a resolution and stated that the parking structure could have a negative impact on the Midway and lead to pollution, traffic congestion, and critical public safety concerns.

Additionally, PAC members said the 2000 master plan does not include the addition of a parking garage.

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, and 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. The structure would also include off-street bus drop-off and pick-up, bicycle parking, and a connection to Metra.

Over the next few months the committee plans to evaluate each of the items with representatives from the University of Chicago and the Park District. They want to check the status of each item outlined in the plan and to figure out if or when specific projects will be completed.

Also mentioned in the text of the master plan is a stated goal to preserve the vision of Frederick Law Olmsted who designed the park, in the later part of the 1800s.

The Midway Plaisance is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The committee is also concerned that there is not enough discussion on the potential impact on the Midway in relation to the Obama Center and other park-related changes.

Michael McNamee, who chairs the committee, wrote in a public release that “the Midway is currently being left out of the Chicago Park District’s public discussion of possible major impacts of proposed OPC changes on public parkland.”

The Chicago Park District is currently developing a new framework plan called the South Lakefront Framework Plan, an updated version of its 1999 framework plan that includes Jackson Park, Washington Park, and the South Shore Cultural Center.

The South Lakefront Framework Plan does not include Midway Plaisance, and it will first focus on the changes to Jackson and South Shore parks, with a discussion about Washington Park to be held at a later date.

This month, the Park District showed three new plans for the improvement of Jackson and South Shore parks. The Obama Center is one of many changes that have been incorporated into the Park District’s South Lakefront Framework Plan, which will be implemented over the next 10 years.

The purpose of this project is to create a long-term plan for improvements for the parks over time it also functions as a planning tool for the community and the Chicago Park District and will become the South Lakefront Framework Plan.

The plans were presented as if the Obama Presidential Center were to be built in its present location along Stony Island Avenue and 59th Street, but versions of the plans did not include proposed merger of two community golf courses.

The site plans include the Midway and the segment of land proposed for the Obama Center’s above ground parking garage.

“There’s one big part of the Obama Foundation proposal that could have major adverse effects on the Midway,” McNamee said during the committee’s first meeting.

Projects that are on the horizon in Jackson Park such as the OPC, accompanying roadway changes and related South Lakefront Framework Plan improvements call for a federal level environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act as well as the regulations under the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966.

Jackson Park is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Jackson Park and Midway Plaisance Historic Landscape District.

One aspect of the NEPA process includes a review of historic resources under “Section 106” of the NHPA.

The two federal environmental reviews are separate but related processes.

They require government agencies and other stakeholders to take a closer look at the impact of proposed plans on historic sites, buildings, and other cultural resources while also taking into account the cultural landscape features, architectural and ecological resources.

The city’s Department of Planning and Development and the Department of Transportation are facilitating the Section 106 review in coordination with the Federal Highway Administration.