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SWEET: Obama Center design team plans changes for proposed garage

Michael Strautmanis, Vice President of Civic Engagement, led the discussion on Sept. 14, 2017, in the Regency Ballroom of the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place on the construction of the Obama Presidential Center. On Sunday, Dec. 17, he said, “There will be some changes.” | Leslie Adkins/For the Sun-Times

WASHINGTON — The Obama Center design team has been reworking plans for a proposed controversial garage on a portion of the historic Midway Plaisance, across the street from where the presidential complex is to be built in Jackson Park.

“There will be some changes,” Michael Strautmanis, the Obama Foundation’s Vice President for Civic Engagement told the Chicago Sun-Times on Sunday. There now are some “new ideas” on the drawing board, he said.

When I left off on this story in November, Tod Williams, one of the architects, said relocating the garage was under consideration, given the concerns of community groups for the historic publicly owned Midway property.

Williams noted some options in November: Putting the 450-car garage underground at the Midway site — Stony Island between 59th and 60th — or under the Obama complex, or finding another place to put it.


The design team now has developed design options along the lines Williams noted. Their plans are evolving at the same time as the opposition against the use of this portion of the Midway for a garage has become more organized and hardened in the past months.

Given that backdrop, the Foundation has invited about 50 interested parties — friends and foes — for a private presentation at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 20 at the Foundation’s Hyde Park Headquarters, 5235 S. Harper Ct.

“As 2017 comes to a close and we look forward to the next phase in our process, we would like to invite you to join us for an important conversation regarding the proposed parking plan for the Obama Presidential Center,” Strautmanis said in his letter of invitation obtained by the Sun-Times.

The briefing will be conducted by the architects, Williams, with his partner/wife Billie Tsien and Dina Griffin, plus the landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh.

The Midway garage was announced by the Foundation in August, with a supposed selling point that the roof would be landscaped.

​The Chicago Park District describes the Midway on its website this way: “The Midway Plaisance is a magnificent linear stretch of parkland between Jackson and Washington parks.”

These three parklands were conceived in 1871 by the famed landscape architects Frederick Law Olmsted Sr. and his partner, Calvert Vaux.

Jackson Park was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.

That designation triggered a federal review of Obama Center-related development plans for Jackson Park, the South Shore Cultural Center and adjacent and other nearby areas.

The review — to include road closures, but so far not a contemplated PGA level golf course — is to identify, minimize and mitigate any adverse impacts.

Whether the original Olmsted and Vaux design for the Midway should be honored — and what it should be in the future — is the essential public policy question at issue.

Michael McNamee, the co-chair of Save the Midway, founded in September, one of the invitees to the meeting said on Sunday he’s going to “listen and report back.” Their headline on their petition drive sums up their position: “Save the Midway! No encroachment! No parking garage.”

“One has to remember the Midway is the connective tissue” between Washington and Jackson parks, “which is part of the only park system designed by Olmsted and Vaux in America outside of New York State,” Charles Birnbaum, the president and CEO of the nonprofit Cultural Landscape Foundation based in Washington, said Sunday.