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Obama Library Eyes Expansion To Midway Plaisance

By Sam Cholke | June 9, 2017 5:49am
 Survey crews for the Obama Presidential Center are including a section of the Midway Plaisance that's being eyed as the potential site for a parking garage.
Survey crews for the Obama Presidential Center are including a section of the Midway Plaisance that's being eyed as the potential site for a parking garage.
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DNAinfo/Sam Cholke

HYDE PARK — The footprint of the Barack Obama Presidential Center may expand to the Midway Plaisance.

Survey crews have included the eastern section of the Midway between the train tracks and Stony Island, where Obama suggested a parking garage should go, during their site work over the last two weeks.

Heavy-duty drills have taken soil samples from at least a half-dozen locations on the Midway in the last two weeks before moving east across Stony Island to start on the section of Jackson Park south of 60th Street where the presidential center is expected to be built.

When Obama showcased the design for the center in May, he suggested the Midway could be a good place for an underground garage similar to what the Museum of Science and Industry offers visitors, but he said he didn't want his foundation paying for it.

Foundation officials said the area is expected to serve as the new gateway to Jackson Park and is a potential site for a parking garage or related facilities.

No decisions have been made, but the area is being included in soil samples because crews are already in the area, and it makes sense for the foundation and the city to have such information on hand to inform a decision about parking when the time comes, according to foundation officials.

Whoever wants to add to the presidential center campus by using the Midway will need to get approval, but it won't be from the Chicago Park District.

Though the Midway is operated as a park, the land is actually owned by the city and the Chicago Department of Transportation, according to Jessica Maxey-Faulkner, a spokeswoman for the Park District.

So any plan would likely need to go through the City Council, not the Park District board, like was necessary for the Jackson Park site.

When the board approved the site for the center it was for a specific 20 acres in Jackson Park that did not include any of the Midway. That deal also came with a guarantee from Mayor Rahm Emanuel that any parkland used by the presidential center buildings would be replaced elsewhere in the city, a deal that so far does not extend to projects on the Midway.

The area on the Midway has been underutilized in recent years. It serves as a sledding hill in the winter for kids in Hyde Park and Woodlawn, but Obama wants to build a new hill in Jackson Park to lure sledders. It also at one time served as an ice skating rink, but has been usurped by the permanent ice rink built farther west on the Midway.