SOUTH SHORE — City officials are touting a planned overhaul of Midway Plaisance green space as a model for accessible play areas across Chicago, though some criticized the location of the project and the community input process as designs for the work move forward.
The east end of the Midway, located between the Metra Electric tracks and Stony Island Avenue, is set to be redesigned to meet a federal requirement to replace recreational space in Jackson Park lost to the Obama 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.
City, state and federal officials signed a binding agreement in 2020 to overhaul Midway’s east end as a stand-in for the Obama Center site. They plan to create a “universally accessible” play area with obstacle courses, sensory activities, a climbing hill and other amenities; restore the Cheney-Goode Memorial and an adjacent path; add a stormwater infiltration system to address flooding and more.
The project’s estimated cost is $3 million, though it’s running “a little over budget,” Rob Reuland, studio director of Site Design Group, said in June. 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.
Full funding has not been secured as of Thursday, said Heather Gleason, the Park District’s director of planning and development.
An expansion of the stormwater infiltration system, additional space for temporary restrooms or tents for special events and accessibility upgrades are among the changes to the design city officials announced Thursday at the South Shore Cultural Center, 7051 S. South Shore Drive.
The changes follow a 45-day public review that ended Aug. 22. Dozens of the 140 public comments criticized aspects of the Midway overhaul, including nearly a dozen similar responses taking issue with the play area’s disruption of “ephemeral wetlands.”
Opponents also questioned why the Park District is overhauling spaces near Jackson Park and another playground instead of adding green space to areas that need it more than Hyde Park. Some want officials to modify the agreement so the project can be moved.
The Park District isn’t interested in relocating the project or leaving the Midway’s east end as-is, Gleason said.
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Supporters and some opponents of the project’s location praised the play area design as unique and welcoming to Chicagoans of all abilities.
The activities would be placed along three paths based on their difficulty, while the paths would intersect three times in “universally accessible” areas.
There are only a handful of play areas in the nation “that are this successful at accessibility,” Reuland said.
“That research we’ve taken on … we’re going to take and apply to future playgrounds,” Reuland said — a sentiment backed up by Park District officials.
A review by the State Historic Preservation Office and Illinois Department of Transportation will take place in the coming weeks, followed by a final community meeting before the end of the year.
Pending the state’s review, construction is set to begin in early 2023, and the new amenities are expected to open in early 2024.
Project To Honor Jackson Park’s Legacy, Burnham Building Rehab Moving Forward
The Park District is also developing a plan to commemorate the “historical contributions of Jackson Park and its use by South Side residents” as part of the federal requirements related to the Obama Center’s construction.
Educational signs, outdoor exhibits, digital resources and other “interpretive materials” could be used to meet the requirement.
Parks officials are meeting with local museums, schools, community groups and other institutions “to determine the appropriate content, format and locations for interpretive materials.”
A draft plan is expected to be unveiled in November ahead of a public feedback session. A final plan for the cultural project is expected in February.
To share stories about Jackson Park and the surrounding neighborhoods and identify historical eras or events that should be included in the project, click here.
The deteriorating Burnham Building, 2200 E. Marquette Drive, is also set to be restored to “closely match its original appearance” by late 2023, parks officials said.
The 110-year-old comfort station’s clay tile roof collapsed under the weight of snow and will be replaced. The building was further damaged last year when a driver crashed into it.
Work on the restoration will begin late this year with the removal of the roof and stabilization of the building, which includes temporary roofing, structural supports and waterproofing to protect the concrete.
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