This was supposed to be the month that a major milestone in the bid for a PGA-caliber golf course in Jackson Park came before the Chicago Park District for approval: a vote on the South Lakefront Framework Plan, a document laying out a new vision for the park that would include the proposed golf course and the planned Barack Obama Presidential Center.
Earlier this year, we argued that the Park District and the group leading the golf course project, the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance, were rushing the golf course through the approval process without enough input from South Siders.
We agreed with many in the community who said the Park District and the alliance had failed to address local concerns about the proposed course’s accessibility to South Side golfers, who are perfectly content with the layout and pricing at the existing Jackson Park and South Shore courses. And we felt the alliance had not adequately explained how it would revamp a nature sanctuary that would be displaced when the course’s 12th hole is built.
Our message for the Park District and the alliance was simple: Slow down.
We’re happy to report that the Park District and the alliance have indeed slowed the pace of play. The Park District has delayed the October vote, and instead will take up the framework plan in January. Now it’s time for the district and the alliance to take the next step: Sit down with South Siders and explain exactly how the promoters would make the course affordable to local golfers accustomed to greens fees at the existing courses — $30 on weekdays and $33 on weekends at Jackson Park; $18 on weekdays and $20 on weekends at South Shore.
It’s clear that the Tiger Woods-designed course, which will combine the footprints of the Jackson Park and South Shore courses, won’t have a problem attracting golfers with deep pockets. And you can bet that every so often a certain former president will be swinging a five-iron there when he’s in town. Alliance officials have promised a tiered pricing structure to keep the course affordable for South Siders. But they won’t budge on their refusal to propose specifics.
With January as the new time frame, the alliance, which is raising private money to pay 80 percent of the project’s $30 million price tag, has plenty of time to lay out its pricing plan to South Siders, the rest of the city and golfers throughout this metropolis.
The three-month delay also gives alliance officials and the Park District time to allay fears about what course construction would do to a nature sanctuary beloved by locals. Plans call for the 12th hole to be built where the sanctuary is now. The hole will give TV networks covering PGA tournaments prime camera angles, with the lake and Chicago skyline as a backdrop. Course developers say they will reshape the sanctuary elsewhere — but where, and how? They’ve yet to explain.
In fact, there’s still a lot that the people pushing the course have yet to explain. Transparency has been sorely lacking, as if sponsors are more interested in loosing the bulldozers than in good stewardship of some of Chicago’s most important public real estate.
The backers here, some city officials included, are excited about uniting “Tiger Woods,” “Jackson Park,” “Obama Presidential Center” and “Chicago Park District” in one sentence. We understand; the prestige, the bragging rights and the prospective opportunities to hobnob. But being much more upfront would go a long way toward making area residents accept a project that, so far, appears narrowly aimed at an elite subset — moneyed foursomes, corporate clients and golf tourists. The course will be, after all, a Park District course — and Park District amenities should be accessible to the entire city.
The Obama center and the golf course have Jackson Park on the cusp of a major transformation, one with potential to economically boost the South Side and the rest of the city. A secretive rush job orchestrated by City Hall would alienate Chicagoans and squander that potential.
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