JACKSON PARK — Chicago Park District Supt. Mike Kelly started selling the idea of remaking two South Side golf courses to a packed crowd Monday night.
More than 150 people packed into a room designed for 100 Monday night at the Jackson Park field house, 6401 S. Stony Island Ave., to ask Kelly about the $30 million proposal to merge the Jackson Park and South Shore golf courses.
Kelly promised new amenities, such as a new beach house at the South Shore Cultural Center and new underpasses at 67th Street and Jeffery Boulevard, that would come with the revamped golf course, to a crowd skeptical that the Park District’s priorities were in the right place.
With groundbreaking starting as soon as spring, golf clubs at Jackson Park asked Kelly whether they should plan to cancel tournaments for next year.
“We’re not going to touch Jackson Park this year,” Kelly said.
But Kelly gave few details about what actually would happen this year, and even golfers questioned why the Park District was putting so much effort toward revamping the courses.
“If it wasn’t for the Obama library, it wouldn’t make sense because the popularity of golf is down nationally,” Diane Meades, a member of the Fairway Network golf league at Jackson Park for the last 15 years, said after the meeting.
People questioned why the Park District was rallying private money for a sport on the decline when there was an immediate need to replace the heavily used football field, running track, baseball fields and more than 20 acres of parkland that soon will be displaced by the construction of the Barack Obama presidential library.
Kelly said he remains committed to also replacing any parkland used for the library.
The Obama library will be built in the park close to where golfers would tee off on a course designed by Tiger Woods’ TGR Design and play down to the South Shore Cultural Center.
Susan Motley, a member of the center's advisory council, said she was worried an influx of moneyed golfers lured by the PGA tours the Park District hopes to attract would turn the cultural center into more of a private club than a community resource.
Kelly assured that wouldn't happen.
“While I’m around, it’s not going to be a country club,” Kelly said.
He said the Park District wants to keep the courses, which now cost about $20 to play, affordable and will keep prices under $50 for city residents.
Pat Harper, tournament director for the Women’s Jackson Park Golf Club, said some of the club’s members will no longer be able to afford to play on the new course after the increase. But she and Meades both said their clubs would not oppose the change if they could continue to use the course.
Kelly said repeatedly the process was just starting, no money has been raised, and the idea was being taken to the community before decisions are made.
Mary Ellen Holt of the Jackson Park Highlands Homeowners Association questioned why the Park District was already signing contracts for the golf course if the process was just starting.
The Chicago Park District Board of Commissioners is expected to vote at its Wednesday meeting on a $1.1 million contract to hire SmithGroup JJR to start the design and construction planning for the golf course.
Kelly repeated that there would be many more meetings to talk about the golf course, but after the meeting many in the crowd said they were now aware the golf course plan had been in the works for months behind closed doors.
E-mails to Mayor Rahm Emanuel released late last year show Kelly started pitching the idea of redoing the golf courses to the mayor in August and had already done considerable work, including hiring a consultant and was seeking approval from the foundation leading the development of the Obama library.
“As you know, it is very common for Chicagoans to request significant capital improvements to its park facilities. This project is no different,” Kelly wrote to Emanuel. “Still, we must be very cautious as this community typically weighs in loudly on any capital project that makes change. Consider, the decade-old Promontory Point revetment project and the 63rd street beach improvements. Or the more recent opposition to the Phoenix Pavilion and the Yoko Ono sculpture installation.”
Many of the groups that were active on the projects Kelly mentioned and others were at the meeting and passed out fliers decrying the lack of community input, but mostly stayed out of the debate as golfers and park advisory council members questioned why there were so few public details about the project.
Kelly is expected to come back to the neighborhood to talk about the golf course again at Ald. Leslie Hairston’s 5th Ward meeting at 6 p.m. Jan. 24 at South Shore International College Prep, 1955 E. 75th St.
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