November 3, 2003

Community activists, city still debating about future of Point

Chicago Park District officials and local community activists are negotiating privately to resolve the issue of renovating Promontory Point.

Negotiations began last July to seek a compromise between the Park District, which wants to entirely cement the limestone seawalls of the Point, and community preservationists, who want to retain as much of the original Point as possible.

Tensions flared anew when the City of Chicago and the preservationists—most notably the Promontory Point Community Task Force—proposed drastically different renovation plans.

The Park District's plan is a fusion of the city's plan and the community's plan, using concrete on the lower levels of the Point and retaining two steps of limestone.

The community's plan, introduced in May, would retain limestone throughout most of the Point.

"I can't conceive of a compromise," Frank Heitzman, one of the architects who developed the community plan, said at a conference in May.

"Concrete changes the whole character of the Point. Stone is non-negotiable," he said.

The South East Chicago Commission (SECC), based in Hyde Park, hosted the discussions intended to diffuse the hostilities surrounding the issue.

According to SECC Director Bob Mason, the SECC Executive Committee convened meetings with people from the Promontory Point Community Task Force and the Chicago Park District to try to solve the issue. Representatives from both sides of the issue were on-hand.

"In the last meeting, the SECC Executive Committee recommended that a mediator be present to subsequent meetings between the Chicago Park District and the Community Task Force, which would be closed to the public," Mason said.

The Community Task Force for Promontory Point and the three governmental agencies involved in the Point project—the Chicago Park District, the Chicago

Department of Environment, and the US Army Corps of Engineers, agreed to meet with the assistance of a mediator.

Many of the meetings focused on design issues, such as water access, disability access, preservation of the limestone seawalls, and the durability of a replacement revetment. Mediated negotiations continue.

The mediator, Jamie Kalven, could not be reached for comment.

Whatever the outcome of the negotiations, the Community Task Force's Save the Point campaign has greatly influenced the Park District. In July, the Park District recanted its original plan to build a concrete and steel lakewall at the Point this fall.

"We don't see construction beginning until next spring," Park District spokesman Julian Green said in a July 14 press conference. "This property is very important from a historic sense and an aesthetic sense to the Hyde Park community. We do not want to go forward with something that the community will not be happy with."

Jack Spicer, spokesman for the Community Task Force and the Save the Point campaign, expressed hope that the Park District will listen to the opinions of several organizations that want to preserve the Point, including the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, an organization with authority over the Park District.

The city has to have any plan concerning the Point approved by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, Spicer said, adding that the Park District needs the Preservation Agency's approval to get federal funding for any historical sites.

"The Illinois Historic Preservation Agency has said that it would reject the current plan proposed by the Park District if asked by the three agencies for approval," Spicer said. "But the Preservation Agency would approve the community plan if it were presented to them."

Currently, the south side of the Point's seawall is mainly intact, while the north wall is damaged. The east end of the Point already has a concrete promenade, added in the 1960s because of wind and water damage.