MPAC to authorities: Don’t let changes to park result in delisting from National Register of Historic Places

Midway Plaisance Advisory Council members vote to tell federal authorities and the city that any coming changes to the Midway endanger its listing on the National Register of Historic Places on Sept. 11. (Photo by Aaron Gettinger)

Staff writer

The Midway Plaisance Advisory Council voted to ask federal authorities and the city that any changes to the park not endanger its listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

The text of the letter, which will be sent to the National Park Service, Federal Highway Administration, Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) and city, is, “Any changes that happen to the Midway Plaisance, we want to be sure that the Midway will not lose or come close to losing its listing on the National Register of Historic Places.”

MPAC’s letter comes after the city released a bombshell “assessments of effects” report that the Obama Presidential Center (OPC) plans would have an adverse effect on the historic integrity of Jackson Park and the Midway Plaisance, which are listed on the NRHP.

The July-issued city report found that the OPC campus would run counter to the design intent of Jackson Park and took particular issue with the intended roadway changes.

In August, the federal ACHP wrote that the assessment of effects “does not articulate how the overall undertaking is altering or diminishing the integrity of the character-defining landscape characteristics,” nor did it say whether the changes would result in Jackson Park and the Midway being delisted from the NRHP.

Properties can be removed from the NRHP if they cease to meet the list’s criteria, whether it be associated with historic events or persons, “yield information important to history or prehistory” or “embody the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction, represent the work of a master, possess high artistic values or represent a significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction.”

Per federal law, persons or organizations may petition a property to be removed from the NRHP. The State Historic Preservation Office or a federal preservation officer would then make a decision about the petition.

The Obama Foundation responded in August that the planned closing of Cornell Drive would honor landscape designer Frederick Law Olmsted’s vision and that the establishment of a museum and cultural institution in public parkland was in step with Chicago history.

Asked if MPAC would oppose the establishment of the OPC in Jackson Park to safeguard its NRHP listing or whether it supports remediation of issues identified in the assessment of effects report, MPAC President Bronwyn Nichols Lodato only said that no additional actions have been proposed or discussed at this time.

The vote on Aug. 11 was 18-4 with 1 abstention. Jackson Park Advisory Council President Louise McCurry, who is also a member of MPAC, voted against the motion, saying that the 30-day window for people to give the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) feedback about the assessment of effects had passed.

MPAC did not send in feedback as an organization during the window.

The Department of Planning and Development will have another consulting parties meeting to present draft mitigation measures and, if necessary, a draft memorandum of agreement sometime this fall. The draft memo be finalized sometime in the fall after that.

In other MPAC news, 1,600 University of Chicago students are expected to participate in a Day of Service around the neighborhood and city on Sept. 28.

Wendy Walker Williams with the U. of C. Civic Engagement Process reported on another successful “Midweek on the Midway” movie series and encouraged those in attendance to give positive feedback to the U. of C. to ensure its continuance next summer.

The next MPAC meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 9, at 6:30 p.m. at the warming house, 1130 Midway Plaisance.