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Olympic Legacies: Give or Take?

Chicago’s historic parks and its rich architectural legacy are among the strongest selling points for promoters seeking to attract the 2016 Summer Olympics to this city.

In selling the games to Chicago’s residents, meanwhile, promises of park enhancements and sports programs for kids, as well as affordable housing, have been featured alongside visions of jobs and boom times.

But current plans put great burdens on parks, and they involve the imminent demolition of a major responsitory of the city’s historic architecture (see part two).

In many cases promised “legacy” facilities seem designed not to meet actual needs of current park users but to accommodate the requirements of Olympic planners. In many cases they involve taking away existing resources while promising residual benefits sometime in the future.

In some cases they involve taking away facilities that have been only recently built.

In Jackson Park, an Olympic field hockey venue is planned — on the site of a world-class track and football field next to Hyde Park Academy. It’s one of only three regulation tracks at Chicago schools.

The track and field opened just eight years ago, funded by a community-led drive which raised well over half a million dollars, including support from the National Football League.

“It’s eight years into a minimum 35-year lifespan,” said Ross Petersen, president of the Jackson Park Advisory Council.

Under the current plan, the new track will be bulldozed, along with an adjacent baseball diamond, he said. Chicago 2016 has promised to rebuild it after the games, he said, although a permanent field hockey field facility has also been touted as a possible “legacy.”

The field hockey was moved to the school after the original proposal, using popular soccer fields near a lakefront nature sanctuary, led JPAC to vote against using the park for the Olympics. Petersen said the council is grateful for the site change, but when he asked at a recent meeting whether members wanted to pass a new resolution updating their stance, no one offered a motion.

In Douglas Park, recently rebuilt gymnasiums and a pool serving the Collins Highcampus — reportedly updated at a cost of $30 million — will be demolished to make way for a $37 million velodrome for bicycle racing. Afterwards a pool “may” be moved to the park from the South Side aquatics center, and Chicago 2016 promises to convert the highly specialized, elite outdoor venue into a year-round “multisport facility.”

In Lincoln Park, Chicago 2016 is touting a legacy of 20 new tennis courts after the Olympic tennis venue is taken down. They will replace 20 existing tennis courts.

Washington Park has attracted the most attention. There a $400 million temporary stadium for opening ceremonies and track events, along with a $100 million aquatic center featuring four pools, will be sited on the open meadow that dates to Frederick Law Olmsted’s 1870 design.

The thousand-acre park, listed on the National Registery of Historic Places, comprises one-seventh of the Chicago’s parkland and features 14 baseball diamonds, football and soccer fields, and cricket pitches. Under current plans, it will be closed for at least four years to accomodate the two-week 2016 extravaganza.

The Washington Park Advisory Council has endorsed the siting, although only a few of the 26 conditions it issued two years ago as requirements for its support have been addressed. But a number of community, citywide and national groups have opposed the use of the meadow for the stadium, including the Hyde Park Kenwood Community Conference, Friends of the Parks, Preservation Chicago and the National Association for Olmsted Parks.

NAOP objects that Chicago 2016 plans “threaten the park’s signature public open spaces and sweeping vistas, jeopardizing [the] integrity, significance and public use” of “a masterpiece of America’s preeminent landscape architect.” According to NAOP, “plans to tear down the stadium following the Olympics are unrealistic” — and even if they are carried out, the new ampitheater and aquatic center would “take a major open space and restrict its use to specific activities, and a much more limited user population.”

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Harper Court rebate?

Could the University of Chicago get a few million dollars back on the $6.5 million purchase price for Harper Court

The Harper Court Arts Council, which is selling the nonprofit shopping center to the University, has said it will disburse its assets to local cultural charities, and earlier listed the University’s multimillion dollar drive to build a new performing arts center as a possible recipient.

A spokesperson at the Attorney General’s office thought that might be legal.

The bigger question, though, is whether the resulting redevelopment will be worse than the University’s first development disaster, the urban renewal program of the 1960s (see Jane Jacob’s “Death and Life of Great American Cities” for details; Arnold Hirsch explores the racial motivations in “The Making of the Second Ghetto”).

The track record of the dominant parties is not promising.

Read the rest of this entry »

‘No’ to Olympics in Jackson Park

The Jackson Park Advisory Council, which voted last month against siting Olympic venues in the park, will hold a public meeting with the Chicago 2016 Olympic committee’s new community representative September 10.

The Council has never been consulted about Chicago 2016 plans to site field hockey competitions in heavily-used soccer fields south of the Jackson Park lagoon, said Ross Petersen.

JPAC voted at its July meeting to oppose “as ill-advised and inappropriate the siting of Olympic venues in Jackson Park.”

Petersen estimates that several thousand people use the soccer fields each weekend for AYSO, high school, and Latin American league games. The Olympics “would displace a solid group of established users, and limit or prevent access to a large area for up to three years” – including preparation and restoration time – he said.

The Olympic venue would also threaten sensitive natural areas that border the fields, he said. The Bobolinks Meadows and Woods feature dozens of tall grass and wildflower species native to Illinois woodlands, supporting a wide variety of birds and other wildlife. The nature sanctuary is now a restricted area for birding, walking, and nature study.

Petersen suggested that rather than taking over an existing park, the Olympics should consider sites like the now-vacant former USX steel mill south of 79th Street on the lake, where new parkland has been proposed.

Following what Petersen said were numerous invitations from the JPAC, Chicago 2016 is sending its new community representative, Gyata Kimmons, to discuss plans and answer questions at JPAC’s monthly meeting, Monday, September 10 at 7:30 p.m. at the Jackson Park fieldhouse, 6401 S. Stony Island.

Meanwhile, the parks committee of the Hyde Park Kenwood Community Conference met with a Chicago Parks District representative on August 21, committee chair Gary Ossewaarde reported.

HPKCC leaders noted community concerns about “continuing lack of community involvement” and “strong fears and opposition” from many community members, reflecting specific questions as well as “the feeling that giving Washington and Jackson Parks to the Olympics violated the public trust and the purpose of the parks, and took what belongs to the citizens,” according to Ossewaarde.

HPKCC has not taken a position on Olympic committee proposals for local parks.

Harper Court For Sale?

Community groups in Hyde Park are demanding open discussion of the future of Harper Court after learning that the nonprofit foundation which owns the neighborhood shopping center has taken steps to sell it to a developer.

Representatives of community groups are scheduled to meet with the attorney general’s office to discuss the sale, and the Hyde Park Kenwood Community Conference has requested a meeting with representatives of the Harper Court Foundation, said HPKCC president George Rumsey.

Harper Court tenant Dr. Tom Wake of the Hyde Park Animal Clinic said he was informed in mid-December that downtown developer JDI Realty had signed a letter of intent to purchase Harper Court, according to the Hyde Park Herald. Later it was learned that the foundation had deeded the property to the Harper Court Arts Council, an offshoot of the foundation, on December 8.

The Harper Court Foundation was established in 1965 to provide affordable retail space for some of the 600 small businesses displaced by urban renewal, including residents of an artists’ colony on 57th Street that had been demolished. Construction of the multilevel off-street shopping center, located on Harper between 52nd and 53rd Streets, was financed with federal small business loans and bonds bought by hundreds of Hyde Parkers.

The arts council was established by the foundation in 1990 to run the annual Hyde Park Community Art Fair and promote artistic activity in schools and the community. Its independent board, which included members of the Artisans 21 cooperative located in Harper Court, was replaced in November when members’ terms expired; new arts council officers are all individuals previously listed as Harper Court Foundation officers.

A former arts council board member said that group had never discussed buying or selling Harper Court.

A spokesperson for the Illinois Attorney General said the Harper Court Foundation has never filed an annual report with that office and was recently asked to do so.

“There are just so many unanswered questions,” said Rumsey. “What’s happening? What’s the future of the Court? Which board controls it? Why was this decided? What happens to the businesses there?” Another question he has: what process led to the selection of the developer?

“It seems like they’re going out of their way to avoid informing the public,” Rumsey said. “Whatever happens there is going to have a significant impact on Hyde Park for the next 50 years.”

An ad-hoc group called Neighbors to Save Harper Court has scheduled a meeting with Therese Harris, Assistant Attorney General for Charitable Trusts. The group is also petitioning Alderman Toni Preckwinkle to help “preserve Harper Court.”

The shopping center’s troubles have resulted because “it’s been so mismanaged for the 25 years I’ve been here,” said Wake. With rare exception, he said, “there’s been no management.” The center’s affordable rents have allowed him to run a practice which serves animal owners of all income levels, he said.

Calls to Harper Court Foundation executive director Leslie Morgan and president Paula Jones, an officer of Hyde Park Bank, were not returned. David Rattner of JDI Realty declined to comment.

There is “no connection” between the sale of Harper Court and the University of Chicago’s recent request for proposals to develop the historic Hyde Park Theater building directly north on Harper Avenue, said Hank Webber, the University’s vice president for community affairs. The University is the leaseholder for the new Checkerboard Lounge in Harper Court, and a University official sits on the Harper Court Foundation board.

If the Harper Court Arts Council sells the property and disburses the funds to nonprofit cultural institutions, the University of Chicago could be a major recipient, observers say.

Harper Court was in the news in 2002 when Morgan removed chess benches that had been a traditional gathering place; community protests at the time were unsuccessful. “That to me was the beginning of the end,” said Sonya Csaszar of Neighbors to Save Harper Court. “They never listened to the community.”

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