At MPAC, questions about investment, community engagement

Midway Plaisance Advisory Committee (MPAC) vice president Donald McGruder (left) and Michael Geline (right) listen as MPAC president Bronwyn Nichols Lodato asks, “How can we collaborate with other PACSs in support of their [the Friend of the Park’s] work?” during the MPAC’s monthly meeting on Wednesday. (Photo by Marc Monaghan)

Staff Writer

The location of the Obama Presidential Center (OPC) and its potential impact on both Jackson Park and the Midway Plaisance continue to stir debate among groups dedicated to protecting those spaces.

At Wednesday’s meeting of the Midway Plaisance Advisory Council (MPAC), a number of attendees protested potential development in and around the Midway, and tensions escalated about whether the Urban Parks and Recreation Recovery Act (UPARR) site selection process or MPAC’s decision-making were being conducted in sufficiently public ways.

The OPC is set to be located on current recreational space in Jackson Park, and because the park received an UPARR in the early 1980s, a new recreational space must receive government investment and enhancement.

All steps taken by the city government indicate that the eastern end of the Midway Plaisance, across from the Canadian National and Metra railroad embankment, is the favored site of this UPARR-required investment.

MPAC has voiced deep concern for preserving the park’s open space. Government officials have previously briefed MPAC on the possible kinds of investment that could occur on the Midway, one of which would include money for passive recreation.

Like the just-passed South Lakefront Framework Plan, which outlines a set of projects to guide the development of Jackson and South Shore parks in light of the anticipated OPC, the Midway also has a framework plan, adopted in 2000. MPAC has previously debated using the UPARR-mandated investments to manifest elements of that plan.

In October, MPAC sent a letter to the National Park Service regarding UPARR, opposing the loss of any green space or trees and requesting “broad community input” in the process, which the letter said was not occurring.

Some meeting attendees expressed concern that the letter itself was not written through a process that incorporated sufficient community input.

“This letter is the opinion of a very small group of people of the entire PAC, as opposed to doing something that represents MPAC,” said Mary Anton.

Ray Lodato disagreed, saying that the letter spoke of reasonable concerns and had adequate support within MPAC.

MPAC president Bronwyn Nichols Lodato said she has received no new communication about the UPARR process.