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Obama Wants To Turn This Muddy Puddle Into A Huge Parking Garage

By Sam Cholke | May 18, 2017 5:48am
 Obama has proposed building an underground parking garage at the eastern end of the Midway Plaisance, a likely expensive idea that would come up against a lot of history.
Obama Parking Garage Idea
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HYDE PARK — Barack Obama wants a patch of grass that looks like little more than a muddy puddle to be made over into the transportation hub that will serve his presidential center — and he says it's too big of a job for his foundation to tackle.

When he showcased the design for the center in early May, Obama mused about creating an underground parking garage between the Metra tracks and Stony Island Avenue, at the eastern edge of the Midway Plaisance. The garage would be across the street from his presidential center

“You could build an underground parking garage here that is landscaped on top and has a little recreation area on top of it — and put a few barbecue grills while you’re at it,” Obama said.

The idea would not be cheap, and Obama indicated he didn’t want his foundation to pay for the project.

Obama Foundation officials said Thursday that the foundation is still considering its options for parking has made no decisions yet.

But parking will clearly need to be sorted out soon, because the plans for the presidential center so far don’t include any new structures or lots for the expected 760,000 visitors per year.

If the center is to keep up with the standard set by the nearby Museum of Science and Industry, which gets 1.4 million visitors a year, it would need more than 700 parking spaces.

The museum, 5700 S. Lake Shore Drive, built an underground parking garage in 1998 with 1,500 spaces and it wasn’t cheap or quick. The museum started planning in 1995 for the garage, which included acquiring all the permits necessary to build deep underground and so close to Lake Michigan in Jackson Park.

Renee Mailhiot, a spokeswoman for the museum, said the Obama Foundation has not approached the museum about sharing its parking garage and the garage can fill up during the summers and holiday season. But she said the garage hits its capacity only 20-30 days out of the year.

Because the museum’s three-level garage is so deep, 70 feet underground, and so close to the lake, it needed thick walls of clay-like bentonite to keep out the water, according to news reports from the time.

It also wasn’t cheap, costing $43.75 million, but included the large underground hallway that now serves as the main entrance to the museum that is literally big enough to fit a train, the Burlington Pioneer Zephyr specifically.

A new parking garage on the Midway would also likely need some extras too.

Obama said he wanted a bridge connecting the Midway to Jackson Park over Stony Island Avenue, and the University of Chicago wants a new train station there, too.

The University of Chicago has wanted to reopen the 60th Street Metra station since 2011 and is offering to pay $2.5 million of the project's costs. [DNAinfo/Sam Cholke]

For six years, the University of Chicago has pushed for the 60th Street Metra Electric Line stop to be reopened. The university signed an agreement with the city in 2011 to put up $2.5 million toward reopening the station whenever the city and Metra could fund the rest of the project.

“We have heard from community members for many years that they would like to see the station reopened,” said Calmetta Coleman, a spokeswoman for the university. “At the same time, the university would like to see new transportation options for students, staff and visitors to campus south.”

With plans for a new academic conference center and a hotel just east of the tracks on 60th Street, the university has more reason now to want a major train station on the eastern boundary of campus.

Obama Foundation officials said they were encouraged by university's commitment to reopening the 60th Street station.

The nearby 55th-56th-57th Street stop is the busiest stop on the entire Metra Electric line outside of the Van Buren and Millennium stations Downtown. But the 59th and 63rd Street stops, currently the closest Metra stops to the presidential center, are not heavily used.

Reopening the station and incorporating into the entrance for the park would take it back more 100 years in its history to when it was a main entrance to the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition.

The 60th Street Metra station was once one of the main entrances to the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition and looked out on the Women's Building. [Univeristy of Pennsylvania]

Visitors would get off the train in front of the Women’s Building, where ideas like kindergarten and playgrounds were first introduced to the broader public. The large black bench still there now is to honor the site’s role in the suffrage movement and to remember some of Chicago’s first women elected to office.

Whatever is done on the site, it is unlikely to remain the muddy puddle it is now when the presidential center opens in 2021.

The Women's Bench honors the first women elected to public office from Chicago and the role of the role of the Women's Building from the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in the women's suffrage movement. [DNAinfo/Sam Cholke]