May 6, 2003

Community proposes alternative Point plan

Community activists opposed to the City of Chicago's plan for renovating Promontory Point presented their own updated plan to rebuild the community landmark last week. Presented at the Hyde Park Union Church, the plan represents a more aesthetically pleasing and flexible engineering design than the one presented by the city, according to its designers.

The plan presented includes three sets of staircases that lead to "promenade level" for those who might otherwise have trouble getting down to the water. There are also three ramps, one of which is wheelchair accessible.

What sets the community plan apart from the citywide plan is the material that will be used to reconstruct the revetment.

Many Hyde Park residents feel that keeping the limestone is crucial for Promontory Point. At the same time, the City of Chicago has stated that it would much prefer to build the new Point revetment out of reinforced concrete.

"I can't conceive of a compromise," said Frank Heitzman, one of the developers for the community activists' plan. "[Lime]stone is non-negotiable. Stone versus concrete is the primary difference between our plan and the city's plan."

The citizens maintain a hard-line stance on limestone, despite pleas that they would rather compromise with the city than be left out of the renovation process. Dave Mulcahey, another one of the project's developers, described the city as uncompromising and disingenuous, calling it "less than an ideal partner in these efforts [to get the community's plan approved]."

Heitzman ticked off a list of the qualities that limestone would bring to the Point as compared to concrete. Mostly, he said, the limestone preserves the natural look of the Point. "Concrete changes the whole character of the Point," said Heitzman. At the same time, limestone is more structurally flexible, more malleable and better able to withstand blows from heavy waves.

Despite the insistence of the community, the city planned to make the new revetment at the Point out of concrete, similar to the one that currently safeguards Chicago's shoreline along most of the city.

Angie Amores, a spokeswoman for the Chicago Park District, said that her organization was studying the plans presented by community members, but that they already have their own "nine-point plan." The nine-point plan refers to nine points of agreement on the revetment plan, reached in May 2001 on issues such as completing the construction in parts so that parts of the Point could stay open.

However, the plan says nothing about the crux of the debate: limestone or no limestone.

Responding specifically to citizens' insistence on a limestone Promontory Point, Amores said her organization would consider it.

On the community's side, Heitzman explained the City's reluctance to support local desires in terms of inertia. "They are going in a completely opposite direction from us with a plan that has progressed pretty far. It is very hard to change what you are doing when that is the case."

The Promontory Point Community Task Force hired coastal engineer Cyril Galvin to study the point and produce a report of how it would best be structurally protected from flooding. The report favored the use of limestone, but the city discredited the report for lacking comprehensiveness. The plans that were released Thursday were intended to build on Galvin's plan by adding the design elements of accessibility for the disabled and young children.

Greg Lane described the city's stated facts as "one phone call from being disproved by anyone in this room." He went on to assert that this was most true with the city's claim about the unavailability of limestone. Cyril Galvin, the engineer that presented the residents' proposal to the city, included in his report letters from several quarries willing to supply the required amount of limestone.

Beyond disputing the city's data, the task force showed that their plan would be cheaper than that of the city. Galvin's report asserts that the cost of replacing the existing limestone would be closer to $4.5 million while the city's concrete plan would cost more than $16.5 million.