Assessment finds Obama Center could adversely affect historic boulevards

The Chicago Park Boulevard System wasn’t mentioned in previous reports about unfavorable impacts of the Obama Center project.

SHARE Assessment finds Obama Center could adversely affect historic boulevards
Aerial view of Jackson Park, chosen site of the Obama Presidential Center.

A new report says the Obama Presidential Center will adversely affect the Chicago Park Boulevard System.

Sun-Times file photo

The Obama Presidential Center will change characteristics of a stretch of boulevards that qualify the area for the National Register of Historic Places, according to an updated report on the project’s impact on the surrounding area.

The final report, prepared for the Federal Highway Administration, said the center will “alter, directly and indirectly, characteristics” of the Chicago Park Boulevard System, which includes parts of the Jackson Park Historic Landscape District and Midway Plaisance.

The boulevard system was not listed as a historic property in a previous impact report.

Components of the project that would harm the historic landscape include “proposed changes to the Midway Plaisance, [Obama Presidential Center] site development, and certain roadway closures,” the report said.

“Other components of the undertaking will deviate from the historic design and have primarily negative effects, such as the Hayes Drive reconfiguration and the changes along Marquette Drive and Cornell Drive.”

Those changes have sparked debate between the foundation and groups worried about the center’s effect on the historic landscape of the area. Only three buildings may be affected by the changes proposed to the area.

Others — including Hyde Park High School, the Stony Island Arts Bank and the Island Terrace Apartment Building — would not be adversely affected by the presidential center.

The report issued Thursday was an updated look at the effects of the Obama Presidential Center on historic Jackson Park.

“We appreciate the thoroughness of federal agencies in this process. As we near the end of the Section 106 process, we want to thank the many consulting parties and stakeholders across the city who have helped shape the opportunity we have with the [Obama Presidential Center],” an Obama Foundation spokeswoman said.

A July report found the presidential center would have an “adverse impact” on the South Side park.

The Federal Highway Administration said in July the project would decrease “the historic property’s overall integrity by altering historic, internal spatial divisions that were designed as a single entity” by the park’s renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted.

Plans to mitigate the adverse effects will be developed through the Section 106 process. All federal review processes are expected to conclude in summer 2020.

The report concluded the “size and scale of new buildings” would “diminish the intended prominence of the Museum of Science and Industry building and alter the overall composition and design intent of balancing park scenery with specific built areas.”

“The combined changes diminish the sense of a particular period of time within the historic property and impact the integrity of feeling,” the July report said.

The release of the revised assessment report begins a review period for consulting parties to formally disagree with the findings. Written objections must be received by 5 p.m. Feb. 18.

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