HYDE PARK — South Siders in favor of preserving Promontory Point’s limestone steps are celebrating their congressperson’s request to fund a preservation study at the Point that’s been stalled since Barack Obama was still a U.S. senator.
Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Illinois) announced last week she requested a $550,000 earmark for an independent study that would determine a preferred way to preserve Promontory Point as it’s reinforced. News of Kelly’s request was first reported by the Hyde Park Herald.
The Point, which runs from 54th to 56th streets on the lakefront and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2017, is one of two sites still unfinished under the Shoreline Protection Project.
The shoreline project aims to better protect the lakefront against storms, flooding and erosion from Montrose Avenue to 79th Street. It’s led by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Chicago Department of Transportation and the Chicago Park District.
The agencies’ preferred design for new lakefront barriers is to replace the original limestone and wood with concrete and steel.
Promontory Point features the last stretch of limestone barriers in the city, as it hasn’t been renovated since the shoreline project was funded in 1996.
For more than 20 years, members of the Promontory Point Conservancy — a nonprofit that grew from the Save the Point campaign of the early 2000s — have demanded officials preserve the Point’s limestone as they complete the shoreline project.
Kelly echoed those demands in an October letter to the Army Corps, saying there’s “no factual, legal or community support” for replacing the limestone with concrete, according to the Herald.
The limestone’s preservation “will allow for rehabilitation of the historic revetment at comparable cost and maximum public benefit,” she wrote.
Congress authorized an independent study of the Point in 2007 with then-Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.’s support, but it’s stalled without funding ever since.
Kelly’s funding request is a major step toward ensuring the 85-year-old limestone remains in place, conservancy members said this week.
“There’s still work to do on the Congressional legislative front, but this is very helpful,” board member Debra Hammond said at a press conference Thursday.
The independent study could build off resident-led studies completed in the 2000s “that show the preservation of the limestone revetment is cheaper, stronger and better-looking,” Hammond said.
Kelly’s request shows how community organizing can move elected officials to act, Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) said. Hairston, whom conservancy members praised for her “longstanding support” of preserving the limestone, supports naming the Point a city landmark.
“There is nothing else like [Promontory Point] in the city of Chicago,” Hairston said. “It should be protected, it can be protected and it will be protected.”
State Rep. Curtis Tarver (D-25th), Cook County commissioner Bill Lowry and staffers with Sen. Robert Peters’ (D-13th) office were among the other civic leaders who spoke at Thursday’s press conference.
The Army Corps supports Kelly’s request, as it would take off “some of the financial burden” from studying lakefront improvements across Chicago, Army Corps spokesperson Michael Padilla told Block Club.
As the Promontory Point funding request makes its way through Congress, the agency is moving forward with a separate study of the lakefront from Wilmette to the Indiana border that’s expected to take three years, Padilla said.
As part of that citywide study, engineers will take a closer look at Promontory Point, flooding between 67th and 73rd streets and the South Water Purification Plant, among other sites. Agency historians and the state’s office of historic preservation will participate in the study.
The citywide study will begin late this summer — by which point the Point’s preservation study may not yet be funded, Padilla said.
However, “we see the [preservation] study being conducted alongside the [citywide study], not in lieu of it,” he said.
Spokespeople for CDOT and the Park District did not respond to requests for comment.
Alongside the Point study, Kelly requested 14 other projects to receive federal funding, including:
- $10 million for South Side water infrastructure projects.
- $2 million for elevator repairs and security upgrades at South Shore Hospital.
- $2 million for assistance to homeowners’ associations and condos in South Shore.
- $1.5 million to expand the A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum.
- $844,800 to study a proposed Lake Calumet trail.
“From home ownership to water infrastructure, to business and economic development, these projects represent worthwhile investments in the futures of our communities,” Kelly said in a statement.
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