Area Framework Plan for Presidential Library Revealed at Community Meeting

The framework plan includes designs for the Obama Presidential Center, a golf course restoration and merger, and consequent roadway renovations.

By Lauren Pankin

To inform the public and to record the uneasy community response to development in Jackson Park, developers presented an area framework plan at Hyde Park Academy High School on June 24.
The framework plan includes designs for the Obama Presidential Center, a golf course restoration and merger, and consequent roadway renovations, all of which were criticized by community members in breakout sessions held after the plans were presented. Framework plans are often created by city government to outline future development in a specific area. 
About 200 people attended the meeting, which was the second in a series of three public meetings in the South Side. The June 24 meeting followed a “standing room only” meeting held on June 21 at which new details about controversial road closures were announced. 
During breakout public sessions at the June 24 meeting, some community members objected to closures of sections of Cornell Drive, Marquette Drive between Stony Island Avenue and Richards Drive, and the eastbound Midway Plaisance between Stony Island Avenue and Cornell Drive. These closures are necessary to accommodate the Presidential Center as well as the renovated golf course, according to Rebekah Scheinfeld, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT), but community members are concerned about the effects on traffic.
The project team includes the Obama Foundation, Chicago Parks Golf Alliance, CDOT, the Chicago Department of Planning and Development, the Chicago Park District, and the mayor’s office. 
Since the July 2016 announcement that the Obama Presidential Center would be located in Jackson Park, the project team has worked to update a 1999 framework plan, according to Bernita Johnson-Gabriel, who represented the mayor’s office at the meeting.
Renovation of the historic Jackson Park Golf Course was designed in part by the Tiger Woods Foundation, and it will include an 18-hole professional PGA Tour course and a short course on the Jackson Park side. The Jackson Park course was the first course west of the Alleghenies when it was commissioned in 1899, according to a presentation by Carol Adams, representing the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance.
“I know that the new and improved golf course will put our city and neighborhood on the map nationally, spurring economic development and tourism,” Johnson-Gabriel said.
Obama Foundation representative Jamie Clare Flaherty said that the addition of a public library to the plans for the Presidential Center came after community members said they did not have a “21st-century library experience” on the South Side. 
In the breakout sessions, however, community members voiced concerns about the environmental, social, and economic impacts of the framework plan.

Woodlawn resident Gabriel Piemonte argued at the meeting that the land taken from Jackson Park public lands and used for the Presidential Center will crowd out activities like grilling and family reunions. 

“I know Obama says there will be grilling at the Center, but the substantial stuff that happens (in Jackson Park) now will not happen anywhere near the Center,” Piemonte said. “Those activities will not happen closer to the Museum of Science or Industry nor the Japanese gardens, so there’s no place in the park now where I see these activities moving.”
Ensuring that public open space would not be lost was also the primary concern of Alphonse Moore, president of the Hyde Park Academy High School Class of 1979 reunion committee. Reunions, which attract hundreds of alumni, currently take place in land which will be occupied by the Presidential Center. 
SmithGroupJJR representative Valerie Berstene said she does not have a conclusive answer as to where reunions and picnics will be held under the new framework designs. SmithGroupJJR is one of the firms involved with planning the new golf course.
South Side resident and birdwatcher Carolyn Marsh voiced concern about the preservation of Wooded Island, a historic bird sanctuary in Jackson Park. She also worries that the framework plan, which outlines construction over the next decade, will be followed by more development plans in the future. 
“After the 10 years are up, it’s going to be another development plan that will gentrify this entire South Side area and push everybody further south into the suburbs and into Indiana,” Marsh said.
“By virtue of our build, we are adding green space to Jackson Park,” Flaherty said. “It’s a very small [ecological] footprint.”
Live phone polling showed that meeting attendees were interested in economic development above the issues of civic and citizen engagement, sustainability and recreation, though the framework meeting was restricted to discussion of logistics rather than economic impact. Economics will be discussed at future meetings in July and August, according to the framework plan timeline presented at the meeting.