JACKSON PARK — Barack Obama’s love of basketball and his desire to have it be part of his presidential center is calling into question whether the YMCA and the Chicago Park District should keep their own indoor courts going near the future library site.
On May 3 when Obama unveiled the designs for his center’s campus, it included an athletic facility that Obama said he wants to include basketball, which could put the center in competition with the Park District and the nearby South Side YMCA’s programming.
“We will have basketball,” Obama said May 3.
But the plans may be less firm as the potential partners the center needs for a basketball program have clamored for more details.
“Can we get in there?” said Mike Kelly, superintendent of the Chicago Park District. “If we can get in there, that would dictate how I invest in the [Jackson Park] field house.”
He said he’s committed to updating the existing field house at 6401 S. Stony Island Ave. but is waiting for the Obama center to sort how it will meet Obama's desire for basketball.
“If he’s going to build a state-of-the-art basketball center, then maybe I can convince the community to do something else with the field house,” Kelly said.
He said he hopes in the months ahead there is going to be coordination on what the Obama center athletic facility actually is.
New basketball courts at the center would create three basketball facilities within two blocks of each other, possibly all competing with each other to fill up camps and schedule games.
The plan for the Obama Library and Center includes an athletic facility on the far southern edge of the campus, two blocks from the Park District's field house and the YMCA. [Obama Foundation]
Kelly said it’s unclear still whether there is demand for a third set of indoor courts or not.
Cherese Ledet, executive director of the South Side YMCA, 6330 S. Stony Island Ave., which has three indoor basketball courts, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
The Jackson Park field house has one indoor basketball court and four outdoor courts spread around the park.
A spokeswoman for the Obama Foundation said the center’s athletic facility will be different and separate from the field house.
“The plan released in May is the foundation's initial vision, and we look forward to continuing to receive feedback on it from the community,” the spokeswoman said. “The foundation is discussing the proposed athletic center with stakeholders, including the Chicago Park District, and community members.”
The move comes as other sports are scaled back in the park.
Upward of 21 tennis courts will be removed from the park under the current designs for the combination of the Jackson Park and South Shore golf courses. Twelve courts would be removed to expand the driving range, and an additional nine would be removed for the new golf clubhouse.
Kelly said none of the courts is used heavily, and he said he will find space for tennis in the park if that's what the community wants. He said demand for courts has dropped substantially, and many of the courts are unplayable, including four that neighbors have converted into an unauthorized dog agility course called Jackson Bark.
“I have not turned my back on tennis,” Kelly said.
Six of the eight baseball diamonds in the park would also be removed to make way for the presidential center and the golf course expansion.
Kelly said the diamonds are lightly used, but he is committed to supporting the existing baseball programs in the park.
He said the Park District is interested in expanding baseball on the South Side if the demand is there.
“Maybe we could build a baseball complex in Woodlawn,” Kelly said “I have to see the interest.”
The Park District has shown some flexibility in its plans, committing to creating a dog area in Jackson Park for the people who use Jackson Bark who have asked for an official place in the park and agreeing to keep event spaces out of the eastern side of the park.
It’s still unclear whether the Obama Foundation’s plans have changed since it unveiled its initial designs in May, despite a month of public meetings where people were critical of many aspects of the plan.