HYDE PARK — The east end of Midway Plaisance is set for an overhaul to meet requirements triggered by the Obama Presidential Center’s development in Jackson Park, and city officials are asking residents to weigh in on the redesign.
The section of Midway between the Metra Electric tracks and Stony Island Avenue must be redesigned as part of a federal requirement to replace recreational space in Jackson Park lost to the Obama Presidential Center site.
Jackson Park received federal grant funds in the ’80s in exchange for the city’s commitment to public recreation in the park. Because the Obama Center modified the park boundaries used to secure the grant, “the city is required to dedicate replacement recreation property elsewhere,” according to the Park District.
Officials have proposed the Midway’s east end as a stand-in for the Obama Center site. They plan to create a “universally accessible” play area, restore the Cheney-Goode Memorial and an adjacent path, level the terrain and add a stormwater infiltration system to address flooding.
Other planned upgrades include restoring the space’s historical, tree-lined walkways to the north and south, as well as adding ornamental plants, shade trees and a native plant buffer along the railroad tracks. The project’s cost is estimated at $3 million.
Construction is set to begin in early 2023, with the new amenities expected to open in early 2024.
Park District officials held a virtual meeting Tuesday night to kick off a public input process around the Midway redesign that’s set to last through the rest of the year.
Site Design Group is heading up the redesign project. The local architecture firm worked on Palmisano and Ping Tom Memorial parks, as well as the 75th Street boardwalk created in 2020 to help restaurants weather the pandemic.
The play area might include traditional playground equipment, like slides or swings, but with a focus on accessibility for all ages and abilities. “It’s going to be different from what a lot of other playgrounds look like,” said Rob Reuland, Site Design Group studio director.
Billed as “universally accessible,” the play area’s design will minimize social or environmental barriers while challenging its users to take risks, grow and learn, Reuland said. A “circuit” path around the playground, sensory landmarks and natural boundaries are ways to achieve that, he said.
“The opportunity to provide play spaces that are designed for a much wider age range — and that provide opportunities for people that might not necessarily have the same physical access, or maybe they have sensory issues — that’s something we want to continue to evolve and add to our design,” Reuland said.
Redesigning the Midway’s eastern end also provides an opportunity to restore the weathered Cheney-Goode Memorial, officials said. The bench honors Flora Sylvester Cheney and Katherine Hancock Goode, women’s rights activists and friends who served as state legislators in the 1920s.
“There’s a lot of TLC that could go into bringing this memorial back to its glory and really celebrating women’s history within the park space,” Reuland said.
Though officials noted the site’s longstanding drainage issues, some attendees at Tuesday’s meeting voiced a desire to keep the land in its current state. Others questioned why the site couldn’t be upgraded with a focus on passive recreation, as opposed to a new play area.
But that isn’t possible, as the Memorandum of Agreement finalized in late 2020 through the Section 106 review process “is a binding federal agreement,” said Heather Gleason, the Park District’s director of planning and development.
“We don’t have the flexibility to not enact what is in the federal agreement, which includes putting in a play space,” Gleason said.
Other attendees noted families use the Metra Electric embankment for sledding, while coyotes use the space to cross between Jackson Park and the train tracks.
“We are just at the very beginning of this process,” Gleason said. “All of this information that you’re all providing us about coyotes using this space and this being an important sledding hill to children [is] all very relevant information for us to take forward.”
A second community meeting will be held in late April or early May, and leaders will present updated designs that incorporate residents’ input. The meeting will likely be held in person, officials said.
To give feedback on the Midway Plaisance redesign project, click here.
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