Look for another spot for the OPC

To the Editor:

When the Obama library first came along, I thought, OK, it is going to occupy a lawn panel between the Midway and the comfort station, Stony Island Avenue to Cornell.

Then, they added in Cornell, and this brought huge road revisions into the mix. Yes, they are removing Cornell Drive from next to the Obama Presidential Center (OPC), but they’re just shifting this traffic onto Hayes, onto Stony, onto Lake Shore Drive.

They also have increased the height of the building from 180 up to 235 feet in height. This is 60 feet taller than the nearby Vista homes building, at Stony and the Midway. It is largely a windowless tower, indeed on the east side there is one window. Nobody knows what kind of stone is going to cover this tower.

This campus lies just west of the lagoons, the Wooded Island and a half-dozen smaller islets that make up the nature area of Jackson Park. At the center of this nature area is the Wooded Island, an old growth oak savannah ecosystem that is over four thousand years old. It survives in a mycorrhizal community, where the oaks and fungi live symbiotically. Arguably, it is the oldest living life form in Chicago.

When the landscape architect Fredrick Law Olmsted first visited the area, he found the feature to be remarkable, and he created the lagoons around it. In 2003, we even signed an international treaty, the Migratory Flyway protective act. It is a nature sanctuary; it needs to be protected.

I think a 235-foot-tall building, up against a sensitive nature area, is a huge mistake. The environmental impact of this building will adversely affect both wildlife as well as be a huge, looming presence to park users. The parks are a place to take refuge from manmade structures, and this 20-acre campus, with paved plazas, miles of paths and roadways, is hugely overbuilt. Will putting a public library into one of these buildings not divert funds from other libraries? This sounds like an effort to justify itself.

I call on the University of Chicago to put some of their holdings into the mix. First, 5620 S. Stony Island Ave., nearly two blocks long. Presently used by their maintenance department, this parcel also has potential for air rights over tracks west. Second, the site of former Plaisance Hotel, along 60th Street from Stony Island all the way to railroad tracks. Third, any number of vacant lots, going south down Stony. This would bring OPC into Woodlawn, but no one would be displaced. The new field house (they somehow left out) could be built along Stony, there would be economic benefits to the community.

A community benefits agreement should be part of the OPC where ever it is built. I call upon the city and the park district to move the OPC out of Jackson Park onto privately (U. of C.) owned property along the west side of Stony Island. Yes, we should build an OPC, but not in the middle of our historic park.

 

Ross Petersen, former president of the Jackson Park Advisory Council (JPAC)