Our Pledge To You


Group led by Emanuel’s ex-campaign chief has 10-year golf course deal

The Chicago Park District wants to merge the Jackson Park (shown) and South Shore golf courses. | Sun-Times file photo

The Chicago Park District signed a 10-year agreement with a non-profit co-founded by Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s former campaign manager to spearhead a $30 million plan to merge the Jackson Park and South Shore golf courses into a single, championship-caliber course, records show.

The agreement, signed Dec. 15, 2016, calls for the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance to be the “sole fundraising entity” for the ambitious project and to “work in partnership with the Park District for the fundraising, implementation and construction of agreed upon master plans.”

The contract, obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times under a Freedom of Information request, sets timelines and fundraising goals — nearly all of which have not been met.

For restoration of the South Shore golf course, the timeline was May through September 2018. The fundraising goal to be met by the non-profit alliance was $10 million.

For the Jackson Park course, the timeline was March 2018 through September 2020. The non-profit’s fundraising goal was $15 million.

Brian Hogan, a founding director of the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance, said he “remains confident” that the fundraising goals outlined in the contract will be reached in time to complete construction in 2020.

“Our preliminary fundraising has achieved the concept design plans by Tiger Woods, which will be included in the new South Lakefront framework plan that will be shared” with the public next week, Hogan said, referring to a public hearing that includes planning for the Obama presidential library. “As we begin the South Lakefront Framework Plan, along with the Park District and the Obama Foundation, we will gather more community input and transition to capital fundraising this summer.”

A public meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Wednesday, June 21, at the South Shore Cultural Center, on the grounds of the South Shore Golf Course. The topic of the meeting is a merger of that course with the Jackson Park course. | File Photo

In December, Park District Supt. Mike Kelly joined Emanuel in announcing creation of the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance to spearhead their ambitious plan to merge the two century-old golf courses.

Michael Ruemmler, who managed Emanuel’s 2011 and 2015 mayoral campaigns, is one of three founding directors of the non-profit. To date, he has not been paid in that role. Hogan said he could be paid for work performed in the future.

His involvement has fueled speculation that the project that’s been on the drawing board since 2000 is a done deal.

That theory was further fueled by Emanuel’s private emails. They showed that City Hall has been laying the groundwork for the $30 million project since early August of last year — nearly five months before the alliance was formed and Emanuel and the Park District went public about the project.

Ruemmler has since denied that his work with the golf alliance has anything to do with the role he played as a former City Hall operative and former Emanuel campaign manager.

He also disclosed that the golf course merger had hit a fundraising slowdown because private donors want to see results of a $1.1 million design and engineering study commissioned by the Park District before writing checks.

The Sun-Times filed a Freedom of Information request for those studies months ago. But the Park District has refused to release them, claiming the work was not done.

Last month, Woods’ DUI arrest and the skyrocketing cost of infrastructure projects raised questions about the viability of the golf course merger.

Margaret Schmid, co-coordinator of Jackson Park Watch, disclosed that the cost of shoreline improvements and two new underpasses will approach or exceed the $30 million price tag for the golf course merger itself.

Hogan refused to comment on Schmid’s claim. He said Wednesday’s 6 p.m. meeting at the South Shore Cultural Center “will include a presentation on the roadway reconfiguration and infrastructure [and shoreline] improvements” needed to make the golf course work.

As for Ruemmler’s involvement in the non-profit golf group, Hogan said, “Since leaving the public sector, (Ruemmler’s) dedication to advancing junior golf at parks across the City of Chicago is admirable. Michael’s 15 years of experience in public service and community engagement at city, state and federal levels are valuable assets to our team.”