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Jackson Park Visitors Center Backers to Hire Historical Expert for Project

By Sam Cholke | March 4, 2014 7:56am
 Project 120, a group led by Robert Karr, want to bring a $10 million visitors center to Jackson Park.
Project 120, a group led by Robert Karr, want to bring a $10 million visitors center to Jackson Park.
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Why Designs

HYDE PARK — The backer of a plan to bring a $10 million visitors center to Jackson Park is bringing in a historical expert to help with the effort to transform the 500-acre lakefront park.

“We worked with the Chicago Park District and the Army Corps of Engineers to find one of the best Frederick Law Olmsted experts in the country,” said Robert Karr, who is leading initiatives to bring a visitors center to the park and revamp the Osaka Japanese Garden.

Karr will announce the Olmsted expert at a lecture for Friends of the Parks on the history of Jackson Park at 12:15 p.m. March 13 at the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington St.

Jackson Park was designed by Olmsted for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition and is currently the focus of plans by Karr’s group and the Army Corps of Engineers, which is planning major habitat restoration in the park.

Karr’s announcement that a historical expert is on board could go a long way to moving all the projects forward as they enter the design phase this month and another round of community meetings.

Parks advocates and Olmsted enthusiasts derailed similarly expansive plans for Washington Park in 2011 because they felt the changes would compromise the original vision for the park.

“That’s what failed at Washington Park, the historical preservation,” Karr said, adding that he could not name the Vermont-based Olmsted expert until she was officially hired on Thursday.

Karr’s presentation of the Walter Netsch Lecture will be on the history of the park, particularly its early role in exposing Americans to Japanese culture at the Osaka Garden.

The lecture also will be a chance to appeal to the skeptics from the Washington Park fight and many of the parks officials and stakeholders that will have to be on board for the privately funded visitors center to become a reality.

“I don’t know how they’re going to pay for it,” David Mosena, president of the Museum Science and Industry, previously said of the visitors center.

Mosena said he had not been approached about supporting the center, but said it could be good for the museum if it brought more people to Jackson Park.

Karr said Project 120, the name of his group spearheading the proposal, would begin reaching out to Mosena and other stakeholders this month and would also start working on renderings of how the park's landscape would change to include the visitors center.

He said Project 120 was planning more community meetings as it entered the design phase, and the Olmsted expert would begin working on the plan later this month.