Could the Federal Review process of the Obama Presidential Center be further delayed?
Updated: Dec 3, 2018
In order for the Federal Review process for the Obama Presidential Center to be completed, a replacement site to carry the UPARR designation needs to be identified on land close to Jackson Park. See our discussion of the UPARR topic on our previous news update here. In brief, the UPARR designation is park positive for whatever site is designated: it brings additional Federal park protection along with funding for site improvement.
The Department of Planning and Development (DPD) in consultation with the National Park Service (NPS) identified the Eastern end of the Midway Plaisance as a preferred site to carry the UPARR designation. This site is frequently used for soccer games but currently suffers from poor drainage and is bog-like for parts of the year. In 2000, this site was proposed as a children’s garden in the Midway Plaisance Framework Plan, a blueprint plan for rejuvenation and transformation of the Midway, put together by the Midway Plaisance Advisory Council. You can find a link to this plan here and details are discussed more, with visuals, in our previous news update here.
The UPARR conversion approval process requires public input to assure that the replacement site offers community benefit of equal or similar value to the site taken out of service. As a prelude to setting up one or more public meetings, DPD has engaged several stakeholder groups in “listening sessions” to gauge interest in the suggested Midway site and the type of recreational options of interest to groups, as well as how to involve community members in public meetings. However, the initial DPD sessions resulted in considerable pushback from several members of the Midway Plaisance Advisory Council (MPAC) and resulted in a letter to DPD and NPS demanding the city cease and desist from any further movement towards granting this designation to the East Midway site. It is important to note that this letter was drafted by only a few members of MPAC, and did not follow a review and approval process as required by the PAC’s bylaws and previous practices. The original letter can be found here and the resolution it references can be found here .
This letter argues that the Eastern end of the Midway should remain as passive parkland without the UPARR designation and that instead, other, unidentified sites outside of the Midway should be considered. DPD has maintained that the Midway was seen as a preferred site because of its location and the value of the additional Federal protection for a historic site. Maintaining the site as passive parkland was in fact one of the options presented by DPD, where funding could be used to improve drainage and landscaping, making the site more attractive to community use. The letter sent by MPAC also appears to reject the idea of this site being transformed into a childrens’ garden, contradicting the plan proposed by MPAC in its 2000 Framework Plan.
The outright rejection of increased park protections and funding along with the letter’s request to cease planning for the public discussion has raised significant concerns that the response was not with the broader benefit of the Midway Plaisance in mind and has the taint of politics to it as without a designated UPARR replacement site, Midway or elsewhere, the Obama Presidential Center Federal Review Process will be further delayed.
Additional ideas are being floated for alternative sites to carry the UPARR designation, much to the dismay of those who would value the Eastern site of the Midway being transformed into useable parkland and protected from future development. Some members of MPAC have requested there be further discussion of UPARR and the Midway at the December MPAC meeting, open to the public, on December 12th, 6:45pm at the Midway Ice Rink Building (see our Calendar for event details). This discussion should more generally focus on how to begin the process of developing options, for the Midway and other sites, to present to the public for input, including community members that live, work, commute and play on the Midway Plaisance. Additional key groups to solicit feedback from will be the youth groups that attend schools proximal to the Midway.