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Has The Jackson Park Overhaul Spun Out Of Control? Hairston Is Worried

By Sam Cholke | May 27, 2016 6:07am
 The new visitors center is planned for an area that is currently a parking lot south of the Museum of Science and Industry.
The new visitors center is planned for an area that is currently a parking lot south of the Museum of Science and Industry.
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wHY Architecture

HYDE PARK — Is a proposed $10 million visitors center behind the Museum of Science and Industry too much for Jackson Park?

That's what worries Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th), so she's called a meeting on Tuesday to talk it out.

The Project 120 nonprofit is proposing building the privately funded visitors center behind the Museum of Science and Industry in Jackson Park. The plan has met increased skepticism from neighbors as the planning gets closer to becoming a reality.

“Somehow it has evolved into an amphitheater and other things it should never be,” Hairston said at her Tuesday ward meeting.

She has asked representatives from Project 120 and the Chicago Park District to come to a 6 p.m. meeting Tuesday at La Rabida Children’s Hospital, 6501 S. Promontory Drive, to give an update on the project.

 Project 120 is privately financing the visitors center in an effort to bring the amenities of the park up to the standards on the North Side.
Project 120 is privately financing the visitors center in an effort to bring the amenities of the park up to the standards on the North Side.
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wHY Architecture

"We strive to be as open and inclusive as possible and appreciate Alderman Hairston’s leadership in creating transparency and bringing people together," said Bob Karr, president of Project 120 in an email Thursday.

Since the project was announced in late 2013, it has always included some entertainment space within the 15,0000-square-foot building, but Hairston said she’s worried there is now too much emphasis on the performance space.

"All concepts are viewable on the Project 120 web site," Karr said. "These concepts are preliminary and intended for discussion. Our hope is to continue with design for a pavilion that serves the community, period."

Plans for the physical building have remained largely the same since originally proposed, but Project 120 has added other elements like an art installation by Yoko Ono that includes two large sloping hills. The expert on Frederick Law Olmsted, Jackson Park’s original designer, hired by Project 120 has also proposed opening a new road through the center of the park while dramatically reducing the size of the existing roads.

"Wonderful progress has been made in the ecological and historic restoration of Jackson Park and we want to build on that," Karr said. "Jackson Park deserves to be the most beautiful, welcoming and safe place in the city."

These changes combined with an $8.1 million habitat restoration project in the park by the Army Corps of Engineers and the possibility of Barack Obama's presidential library being built in the park has prompted a lot of questions about whether plans for the park have gotten out of hand, according to Hairston.

“Some people from outside the community decided to make plans for the community and it’s just not working,” Hairston said.

She said she’s calling the meeting to sort through the timelines of all the different projects and see what still has the support of neighbors and park users.

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