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Park District advances plan to close Cornell Drive for Obama Presidential Center

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A proposed land transfer would realign numerous roads in and around Jackson Park

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Jackson Park’s upcoming Obama Presidential Center and new Tiger Woods-designed tournament grade golf course—as well as a controversial plan to close multiple nearby roadways—took a step forward this week with a vote by the board of the Chicago Park District.

On Wednesday, the group unanimously approved a measure to begin negotiations on a proposed land transfer with the City of Chicago. Under the agreement, the Park District would take over roughly 8 acres of city roads. In exchange, 6 acres of parkland would go to the city to be used in a $160 million infrastructure improvement project to widening other streets.

While the final details of the land swap are still being worked out, the Chicago Sun-Times shed some light on what is being considered:

A map showing some of the proposed changes to the roadways around Jackson Park. The outline Obama Presidential Center is shown in yellow.
Original image via Google Maps

If approved, the Park District would get Cornell Drive from 62nd Street south to Hayes Drive, Marquette Drive between Stony Island Avenue and Richards Drive, and the northbound lanes of Cornell Drive from 67th Street to 64th Street.

In return, the City of Chicago would get land west of Lake Shore Drive from 57th Street to Hayes Drive, land east of Stony Island from westbound Midway Plaisance to 67th Street, and land south of westbound Midway Plaisance from Stony Island to Cornell Drive. Additional roadway improvements replace parkland near the intersections of Hayes Drive and Richards Drive and Cornell Drive and Hayes.

The idea to close existing Jackson Park roads—especially the thoroughfare of Cornell Drive—has stirred controversy ever since the Obama Presidential center was publicly revealed in May of 2017.

A rending of the Obama Presidential Center
Obama Foundation

Proponents of the plan argue that converting Cornell to a bike and pedestrian path is in keeping with landscape architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux’s original vision of a slow moving carriageway. It wasn’t widen into a six-lane arterial street until 1965.

Others see the move as a major traffic disruption that would inconvenience both Southeast Side residents and businesses. Concerns have also been raised about the timing of the Park District’s vote to advance the plan, arguing that such a move is premature given that community discussions and a federal historic review are still ongoing.

Chicago Park District Superintendent Mike Kelly backs the board’s decision as well as its timeline. “I haven’t signed the deal yet. But I intend to. It’s a good plan,” Kelly tells the Sun-Times. “We’re just anticipating and getting everything in order.”