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Hyde Park, Woodlawn, South Shore

Rope Courses, Forest Maze, Climbing Wall And More Planned For Overhauled Park At Midway Plaisance’s East End

The green space around the Cheney-Goode Memorial must be renovated as a stand-in for Jackson Park land lost to the Obama Center. A public review of the plans is set to begin next month.

A northeast-facing view of the east end of the Midway Plaisance, between the Metra Electric viaduct and Stony Island Avenue.
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HYDE PARK — Obstacle and ropes courses, a “forest maze” for kids, gardens and more are included in the city’s latest proposal to overhaul the east end of the Midway Plaisance as part of a requirement triggered by the Obama Presidential Center’s construction in Jackson Park.

The section of Midway between the Metra Electric tracks and Stony Island Avenue must be redesigned to meet 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 changed 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.

Park District officials and the project’s designers held a virtual meeting Tuesday night, outlining the latest draft of the park plans. This week’s was the third meeting of five in a community input process that began in March.

The plans focus on drawing visitors of all ages and abilities, with amenities ranging from to more challenging areas like a ropes course and climbing wall.

The activities would be placed along three paths based on their difficulty, while the paths would intersect three times in “universally accessible” areas — a gathering space, a hub for acoustic music and a water play space.

An open lawn at least 30 by 50 yards in size would take up a significant portion of the park space. There would also be ornamental plants, a butterfly garden and a therapeutic garden.

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 design as laid out Tuesday creates “opportunities for pollinators, birds and for nature to come back and use the site’s elements,” said Heather Gleason, the Park District’s director of planning and development.

Project leaders are meeting with the Chicago Department of Transportation about creating an accessible drop-off for cars, making crosswalk and signal improvements and providing accessible on-street parking along the Midway.

The site’s stormwater management plans include infiltration and native plants in low areas to collect runoff before it enters the sewer system, as well as on-site storm sewer piping.

The plan is to minimize the amount of water that enters the city’s sewer system, Site Design Group studio director Rob Reuland said.

Credit: Zoom
A map of the latest Midway Plaisance redesign proposal.

Some attendees — including members of the Midway Plaisance Park Advisory Council, who last week submitted a letter to the Hyde Park Herald demanding the project be located elsewhere on the South Side — spoke out against the plans Tuesday.

Several people said the park’s development would remove needed wetland areas that help with drainage, while others criticized the plan as a publicly-funded front lawn for the Obama Foundation’s presidential center.

It’s “not an option” to relocate the project or leave the Midway’s east end as-is, as the project is part of a binding federal agreement, Gleason said.

Other attendees, including members of the Jackson Park Advisory Council, praised the plan for its potential to bring more children to the area and for its renovation of the decaying Cheney-Goode Memorial.

“It’s not easy,” Gleason said. “There’s going to constantly be people who look at spaces and want to see them either all natural, or want [them] to be all recreation.”

The project’s cost is estimated at $3 million, though it’s currently “a little over budget,” Reuland said. He’s hoping for inflation and construction costs to “level out” before work begins, he said.

Full funding for the project is not secured, Gleason said. The Park District is working with the city “to find those funds,” though the design process is funded, she said.

A 45-day public review of the Midway project is set to begin in July.

The review will focus on a new draft plan that incorporates feedback from Tuesday’s meeting. Residents will join the “consulting parties” — the stakeholders selected to be at the forefront of the federal review process that led to the Midway’s selection as a stand-in for the Obama Center site — in giving feedback.

The project plans will also receive two more community meetings late this year, as well as a review by the State Historic Preservation Office.

Pending the state’s review, construction is set to begin in early 2023, and the new amenities are expected to open in early 2024.

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