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Hyde Park, Woodlawn, South Shore

Obama Center Plans Would Change Historic Aspects Of Park Boulevard System Too, Updated Report Says

Stakeholders will provide new input in response to the completed report next week.

A night view rendering of the Obama Presidential Center.
Obama Foundation
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WOODLAWN — The city of Chicago is offering more detail on the impact the planned Obama Presidential Center could have on Jackson Park, a followup to a federal report that warned of “adverse effects” to the historic park.

After months of preparation, the city released the updated draft of a federal report Thursday. The updated report includes the entire Chicago park boulevard system, including the Midway Plaisance, in the Obama Center’s area of potential impact.

Obama Center plans would have a “very localized” adverse effect on the Midway and the boulevards, as “due to the historic district’s size most places in the [boulevard system] will not be able to see” the museum building, the report reads.

The boulevards were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in December 2018. According to the report’s cover letter, the Federal Highway Administration was unaware the boulevards were on the register at the time of the initial report’s publication.

The entire boulevard system is included in the updated report because Jackson Park and the Midway are “contributing resources” to the system’s historic district. The adverse effect does not “diminish the overall integrity” of the boulevard system enough to risk its removal from the National Register of Historic Places.

The report from the Federal Highway Administration also outlines what the city and federal agencies must first attempt to avoid, then minimize and mitigate after the center’s plans were found to create “adverse effects” on the historic nature of the park.

The revised draft released Thursday took into account feedback from a month-long public comment period on the initial report that ended Aug. 30.

Among the most significant changes made in response to public feedback are:

  • More detail about the planned center’s impact on the park’s “cultural landscape”
  • Additional analysis of the plan’s impact on the surrounding area’s viewshed
  • “Refinements” to a plan to replace protected Jackson Park land with nearby Midway Plaisance land under a federal requirement; and
  • “An expanded discussion” of how parties will work to avoid and minimize adverse impacts before attempting mitigation.

“Not enough detail” on the “nature and intensity” of the adverse effects was included in the initial draft assessment, according to an Aug. 22, 2019 letter from the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.

The council is an independent federal agency responsible for overseeing the process.

In response, the city added a new section to the assessment which details the plan’s effects on specific characteristics of the park, like land use, views and traffic circulation.

The layout of “distinct, historic spaces” like the Women’s Garden, the Western Perimeter Playground and the North field and gymnasium would be altered by the center’s construction.

The center’s plans also call for the closure of Cornell Drive between 59th and 63rd Streets; northbound Cornell Drive between 65th and 68th Streets; Marquette Drive between Stony Island Avenue and Richards Drive; and the eastbound portion of Midway Plaisance between Stony Island Avenue and Cornell Drive.

These closures, while impacting traffic flow in the area, would change the “shape, form and function” of Jackson Park’s historic and symmetrical road system.

These changes to the document are listed among numerous other responses to public comments in a 54-page appendix to the report.

“Consulting parties” — the community stakeholders selected to be at the forefront of the federal review process — will provide feedback on the new report during a webinar with city officials Jan. 23. Their official responses must be filed with the city by Feb. 18.

Following the webinar and another meeting of consulting parties, a memorandum of agreement will be finalized; that document is expected this spring. Consulting parties’ approval is not required for the agreement to go into effect.

After a few months of silence around the process, the city announced last month that an updated assessment was forthcoming.

More information can be found on the city’s website.

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