Parking Summit

Obama Presidential Center won’t move controversial parking garage

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Obama Presidential Center won’t move controversial parking garage. Pictured here: Initial plans released earlier this August for the parking garage at the OPC called for a bus staging area and activity spaces on the green roof. (Courtesy Obama Foundation)
Obama Presidential Center won’t move controversial parking garage. Pictured here: Initial plans released earlier this August for the parking garage at the OPC called for a bus staging area and activity spaces on the green roof. (Courtesy Obama Foundation)

Despite comments from Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects that the forthcoming Obama Presidential Center (OPC) would consider moving a freestanding parking garage out of the Frederick Law Olmsted–designed Jackson Park in Chicago, officials have decided to keep the building on the greenway. The 450-car structure will potentially eat up five acres of parkland in addition to the 20 acres the center itself is taking.

The decision to build an aboveground garage on the eastern edge of Midway Plaisance, a narrow strip of historic parkland that connects Jackson and Washington parks, has been contentious from the beginning. Although the two-story structure had always been envisioned with a green roof on top to help it blend into the surrounding park, critics charge that this fails to negate the destruction of a historically significant landscape. Olmsted and Calvert Vaux designed all three of the aforementioned parks in 1871, while Jackson Park was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.

As opposition from the local South Side community continued to mount, Tod Williams said earlier that, “We are wondering whether this parking should exist here, or whether it should be pressed further into the ground … or whether it comes back to the site here.”

Rendering of the Obama Presidential Center, designed by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects | Partners and Interactive Design Architects. (Courtesy Obama Foundation)

But following a private meeting between the Obama Center design team, the Obama Foundation, and local community activists last night, the Foundation has announced that the garage will be staying put. Part of the Obama Center master plan calls for linking the site with the nearby Museum of Science and Industry, and the location of the garage proved too integral in that design for designers to consider moving. The walkability that an aboveground garage brings was also given as the reason why the team couldn’t bury the structure.

Instead, project landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh detailed a list of changes that the design team hoped would assuage outcry from concerned preservation groups.

Van Valkenburgh told the Chicago Sun Times that landscaped slopes would be installed on all sides to better camouflage the building, that the plan would call for no longer staging busses on the Midway, and that the entrance to the garage would be moved to cut down on the time it took to walk to the Center. Additionally, the green roof has been made more pastoral, and plans for a basketball court and barbecue area have been tabled.

“I think that the way it honors the intent of the original Olmsted plan is with a strong landscape connection between Jackson Park and the beginning of the rest of the Midway,” said Van Valkenburgh.

Despite the changes, the Chicago City Council will still need to give the Obama Foundation permission to build in the Midway, while a review of the entire OPC is also underway at the federal level.

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