To the Editor:
Regarding the plans for three projects in Jackson Park that were presented at a Nov. 29 virtual meeting by the Chicago Park District and Alderman Leslie Hairston, we applaud the plan for renovation of the Iowa Building after decades of negligence and years of prodding by the Jackson Park Advisory Council, and we appreciate the work of Senator Robert Peters in securing state funding for this much-needed work. However, the other projects slated to begin in 2022 raise continuing concerns and questions prompted by the loss of parkland to the Obama Presidential Center and the Park District’s plan to add to the already-large OPC footprint for the dubious public benefit of building a PGA-level golf course in Jackson Park.
The proposal for construction of a new Dog-Friendly Area (DFA) on an exposed stretch of park land south of Hayes Drive and adjacent to DuSable Lake Shore Drive is intended to replace the well-established and well-loved Jackson Bark to the north. Unlike the Iowa Building work, it is not clear why this is essential. The DFA project did not arise from community requests and, as was made clear in the Herald coverage, does not reflect support from patrons of Jackson Bark. Rather, the new DFA is a key element in the controversial plan for a new Tiger Woods-designed golf course: eradication of Jackson Bark will allow its current site to be used to extend the golf driving range northward. That questionable trade-off should be considered in assessing the DFA plan. Would it not be a better use of public funds (and likely require fewer public funds) to renovate rather than erase Jackson Bark?
The proposal for construction of a new baseball field north of Hayes Drive in the center of the park is intended to allow the relocation of one of the playing fields displaced by the construction of the Obama Presidential Center along the west side of the park. The Park District is choosing to build a single replacement field in an already congested recreational site, rather than develop new public parkland elsewhere in the Woodlawn area to replace the 19.6 acres lost to the OPC — a mitigation promised by Mayor Rahm Emanuel in the 2015 ordinance approving use of Jackson Park for the OPC. The plan to squeeze three ball fields and two multi-sports fields into a close-proximity, “pinwheel” configuration may be a marvel of spatial design, but it will likely offer a less than optimal playing experience for the local athletes who need and deserve more rather than less athletic space.
Further, if these plans are realized, both dog-walkers and ball-players will be challenged by expected traffic problems resulting from the transformation of Hayes Drive into the default pass-through speedway for north-south traffic (replacing Cornell Drive) and the removal of all of the free parking spaces now available along Hayes. Citizens from all parts of the South Side have long used the Jackson Park facilities because they are public, accessible and safe. Is crowding average people out of the park the real price of the OPC?
The virtual meeting on Nov. 29 had only a few participants. We urge regular users of Jackson Park to take a careful look at what is being proposed by the Park District. Other, better options are possible.
Brenda Nelms and Jack Spicer
Jackson Park Watch