BELMONT CRAGIN — Mayor Rahm Emanuel opened the door Thursday to city taxpayers footing the bill for a long list of improvements needed to build the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park, including adding a lane to Lake Shore Drive and two lanes to Stony Island Avenue.
Chicago Department of Transportation Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld said Wednesday the additional lanes would help smooth the flow of traffic through Jackson Park if Cornell Drive is closed to allow the center to be built and the South Shore and Jackson Park golf courses combined.
However, Emanuel declined to take a formal position on the proposed changes that could cost the city tens of millions of dollars until members of the public get a chance to weigh in on the plan to add a new southbound lane to Lake Shore Drive from 57th Street to Hayes Drive on what in now the Jackson Park side of Lake Shore Drive.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel urged Chicagoans to focus on the big picture of the Obama Presidential Center. [DNAinfo/Heather Cherone]
"We are in the beginning of the process as a city," Emanuel said. "People should have their input and ideas heard."
Under the proposal, two lanes would be added to Stony Island Avenue from 59th to 63rd streets while keeping existing on-street parking, as well as making space for a landscaped median that would run down the middle of the street. The lane additions would swallow up portions of Jackson Park.
Emanuel made it clear that whatever the cost of the new roads required by the construction of the Obama center, the return on investment will be worth it in the long run — noting that he worked to ensure it was built in Chicago and not New York.
The center will mean "tremendous economic, educational and cultural investment and opportunities this will mean not just for the South Side but for the entire city," Emanuel said at an unrelated event at Prosser High School in Belmont Cragin.
"Keep your eye on the prize," Emanuel said. "Let's just get this done."
Emanuel also endorsed plans to build a 450-space parking garage at the easternmost edge of the Midway Plaisance with a green roof that will translate into a new three to four acre park. The foundation has vowed to pay for the structure, a fact that Emanuel said "goes a long way."
"Don't just dismiss the contribution of the parking garage to the community as a whole," Emanuel said. "And by doing a green roof I think it goes a long way toward meeting other needs."
Emanuel said he would work, as mayor, to keep the discussion focused on the "forest rather than the individual trees."
It is difficult to estimate what the final price tag for the presidential center could be.
By comparison, the two-mile southern extension of Lake Shore Drive that opened in 2013 cost $64 million.
The city will also have to pick up the tab to close Cornell Drive for the Obama Presidential Center and Marquette Drive for the golf course expansion.
In addition, the presidential center proposal calls for a football field and track to be moved to make room for the center’s campus. That will likely be at the expense of the city or Chicago Park District.
In addition, Scheinfeld said two pedestrian underpasses through Jackson Park to the golf course would need to be improved. That cost will also be borne by the city or Chicago Park District.
The mayor declined to say precisely how much the city could be on the hook for, but noted that Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield receives a "tremendous amount of support" from the state.
"I think it would be a unique opportunity" for the state of Illinois to have both Lincoln and Obama's presidential libraries, and would drive the creation of jobs, tourism and educational opportunities.
However, questions about the the cost to city taxpayers are "fair" — but declined to discuss the specifics while the proposals are finalized.
"It would be a missed opportunity to get caught up in individual items and trip ourselves up," Emanuel said, adding that he was looking decades in the future. "We are going to be glad it is here."