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Hyde Park, Woodlawn, South Shore

Feds Back Plan To Turn Roads In Jackson Park Into Open Park Space Ahead Of Obama Center’s Arrival

Public comment on an environmental review of roadway closures and plans to replace Jackson Park land lost to the Obama Presidential Center will be accepted through Oct. 30.

Jackson Park, the proposed home of the Obama Presidential Center.
AJ LaTrace/Block Club Chicago
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WOODLAWN — Federal officials are backing the most drastic of three proposals to alter recreational space and roads in and around Jackson Park, following a recent environmental review of the Obama Presidential Center’s construction plans.

Residents received updates on the controversial project during a Wednesday hearing about a federal review under the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, to address the “significant environmental impacts” to Jackson Park that would be caused by Obama Center construction.

The review is necessary in part because the park received federal funds in the early 1980s in exchange for the city’s commitment to promoting recreation in the park.

As a result, federal officials must approve any plan to remove or replace recreational space in Jackson Park, as the Obama Center plans would.

Officials reviewed three plans during Wednesday’s meeting:

  • Plan A: Keeping Jackson Park’s existing layout by not building the Obama Center there.
  • Plan B: Building the Obama Center, replacing lost parkland with a new recreational area on the Midway Plaisance and closing the following roads to traffic:
    • Cornell Drive between 59th Street and 63rd Street (Hayes Drive).
    • The northbound section of Cornell Drive between 65th and 68th streets.
    • Marquette Drive between Stony Island Avenue and Richards Drive.
    • The eastbound portion of Midway Plaisance between Stony Island Avenue and Cornell Drive.
  • Plan C: All aspects of Plan B, as well as converting the closed roads into park space and making changes to roadways, bike paths and walkways in and around the park.

The NEPA environmental assessment, released Sept. 28, endorsed Plan C. Officials are now seeking feedback on the assessment through a public comment period that ends Oct. 30. You can submit comments online through the National Park Service’s website.

Credit: National Park Service
An overview of all planned changes to roadways, bike paths and walkways under Plan C. The areas in green include the portion of the Midway that would be used to replace the Obama Center site, as well as roadways that would be demolished and filled in with new park space.

The NEPA review is separate from the Section 106 review, part of the National Historic Preservation Act, taking place at the same time.

NEPA addresses the impacts of the Obama Center’s planned construction on the environment and recreation in Jackson Park. The Section 106 review addresses the planned center’s “adverse effects” on historic properties.

Plan B would result in a net gain of 26,000 square feet of parkland by replacing Jackson Park land lost to the Obama Center with a new recreational area at the east end of the Midway Plaisance.

Credit: National Park Service
An overview of Plan B. The area outlined in red is the planned Obama Center site; the green area is the proposed use of the Midway Plaisance to replace parkland lost to the Obama Center.

The Women’s Garden, various walkways, a running track, an artificial turf field, picnic space and a portion of a playground would all be lost and replaced under Plan B.

The Women’s Garden would be replaced with a garden “of equivalent size and improved accessibility” in Jackson Park once the Obama Center is completed, officials said. The track and picnic space would be replaced by the Obama Center or elsewhere in the park.

The playground at 62nd Street would be moved and expanded at the east end of the Midway. Other improvements planned for the Midway to replace lost Jackson Park land include raising the land to prevent flooding, adding trails and restoring vegetation.

Credit: National Park Service
An overview of the proposal to upgrade the Midway Plaisance at Stony Island Avenue, to make up for Jackson Park land lost to the Obama Center. These changes would be made under both Plans B and C.

Plan C, the federal government’s preferred plan, includes all aspects of Plan B. Additionally, even more Jackson Park land would be lost as Lake Shore Drive, Midway Plaisance, Stony Island Avenue and Cornell Drive would be widened to address additional congestion expected from road closures in the park.

However, the net gain of parkland would be greatest under Plan C, at about 280,000 square feet. Unlike in Plan B, where the closed roads would remain paved, they would be converted to open space under Plan C.

The “historic workmanship” of Frederick Law Olmsted’s park design would be diminished under Plan C, officials said. For example, the intersection of Hayes and Richards drives, which places emphasis on the century-old Statue of the Republic, would be removed.

The park would remain eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places under all three plans, according to Wednesday’s presentation.

About 10 participants in a public comment session Wednesday were all in support of the Obama Center’s construction. Most did not directly address the environmental assessment, which was the focus of the meeting.

Officials did not respond to public comments Wednesday. “Substantive” comments that question the accuracy of information in the environmental assessment, or present a “reasonable” alternative to the three plans, will be responded to and made public once officials make a final decision.

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