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Proposed Jackson Park improvements don’t address concerns, critic say

Jackson Park is the site of the proposed Obama Presidential Center. / Associated Press

The Chicago Park District is overhauling its master plan for Jackson Park, but critics in the community say proposals ignore the obvious — the effect of the Obama Presidential Center, the potential for a PGA-level golf course and controversial road closures in the park being pushed by the Obama Foundation and City Hall.

At issue is a revised South Lakefront Framework Plan for Jackson Park and the South Shore Cultural Center Park. The plan hasn’t been updated by the park district since 1999 and it’s taking place at a dramatic turning point for these parks because of the Obama Center.

Before the Center can break ground, Cornell Drive would close and Marquette Drive between Stony Island Avenue and Richards Drive would also face closure. Hayes Drive would become the new connector to Lake Shore Drive and would be widened to accommodate more traffic.

Margaret Schmid, co-president of Jackson Park Watch, said the plans may confuse community members and don’t adequately address the “big elephants in the room,” namely the proposed Obama Center site and the proposed road closures and re-alignments.

“All of these ideas are being vigorously challenged and the outcomes are not clear,” Schmid said. “Advancing new options while ignoring the truly big unanswered questions does nothing to advance us to where we need to get — one holistic and comprehensive plan for the Park.”

Margaret Schmid of Jackson Park Watch | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Though it will have a major effect on the park’s use, little information has been released regarding the golf course’s layout. At a Dec. 7 meeting, Park District Supt. Mike Kelly said, “We’re going to talk about golf when we’re ready to talk about golf” and the final plan for the park wouldn’t be published without a “robust set of community meetings just on golf. That is my commitment.”

The three proposed scenarios from the park district focus on improving the coastline in the park, connecting its two lagoons and creating a cohesive green space for people to enjoy a picnic or outdoor recreation.

Community members will get to vote on what they like from each of the three proposals before a final plan is drafted, but Schmid said the bigger questions — like what’s going on with the golf course — should be answered before the park district starts trying to plan for dog parks, board walks and more waterways.

Initial plans also included a proposed merger of the Jackson Park and South Shore golf courses and would create a PGA-level course not far from the Obama Center.

The South Shore Cultural Center Park Advisory Council said in a statement that they’re “eager” to work with the park district and the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance, but urged them to create “detailed plans for capital funds available for building repairs & maintenance”; a collaboration between decision-makers and the community; and keep any restorations to the golf course “within the existing course footprint.”

Also at issue is how the center, and the plans, will impact the nature around the park. The community is concerned about the future of the South Shore Nature Sanctuary, which some fear may be moved to make way for the golf course. The advisory council is advocating for it to stay where it is and is calling for the golf alliance and others “proposing changes to its footprint or character to explain and justify the environmental and fiscal impact of those changes.”