Park advisory councils on the South Side released statements Thursday to air their concerns about the Obama Presidential Center coming to Jackson Park, joining an outpouring of community calls for transparency and collaboration as the Obama Foundation begins to finalize plans.
The Midway Plaisance Advisory Council met Wednesday night to draft a resolution that strongly opposed the seizure of the land for a two story parking garage and bus staging area. They also asked for no action on the land without a renewed framework for the land by the Chicago Park District; and the consideration of all communities, and people who use the land.
The group is one of the latest to voice their concerns about the center coming to the city, joining Jackson Park Watch and the Nichols Park Advisory Council.
Focusing on Midway Plaisance, a plot of land that features an ice rink and functions as a connector to various communities like Woodlawn and Washington Park, members of the council say that closing the strip of land to public consumption would negatively impact the community.
“We want to make sure that they hear from all communities,” said council member Don McGruder. “We’re pro-center but also pro-public park, and keeping the Midway free and open.”
The Obama Foundation plans to take land from the Midway and open a two-story parking garage and bus terminal on the land.
Stephanie Franklin, whose Nichols PAC also drafted a statement in opposition to the foundation using park land for the center, said that the statement hopes to shed light on the “radical changes” that have been proposed and show the foundation that the community is concerned.
“We’re concerned about the overall health of the park,” Franklin said. “It hasn’t been demonstrated to us how they will resolve our concerns or that they’ve even heard us.”
The common theme surrounding both councils’ statements is displacement of wildlife, recreational courts and, most importantly, the people who call the area home and whose daily lives will be altered by street closures and by the center.
Bronwyn Nichols, president of the Midway Plaisance PAC, said that the creation of their resolution came after meetings with the foundation and a feeling that the community members needed assurance that they would be heard.
“Everyone thinks [the center] is great and we believe in its mission – this resolution isn’t anti-center,” Nichols said. “Our concern is preserving the Midway as park land and ensuring it remains free for all.”
Franklin said the closure of streets, the expansion of the golf course and the reduction of parking pale in comparison to what she fears the center’s footprint will do to Jackson Park – a “jewel along the lakefront.” The area doesn’t need “revitalizing,” she said.
“The parks aren’t vacant land waiting to be redeveloped,” Franklin said. “…Buildings would take away from its beauty and turn the park into a manicured lawn.”