April 13, 2000
Vol. 19 No. 14

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    University, Chicago Park District announce a master plan for Midway Plaisance

    By Jennifer Leovy
    News Office

    The University and the Chicago Park District announced last week a master plan for the Midway Plaisance[midway], which will become a modern version of the Great South Park that its designer, Frederick Law Olmsted, originally envisioned more than a century ago. Seasonal gardens, decorative bridges, fountains and festivals are included in the proposal that will be presented to the Park District Board this May.

    Both the University’s Campus Master Plan and the Park District identify the Midway’s transformation as a key contribution to improving the quality of life for thousands of people in the immediate neighborhood and to revitalizing the greater South Side. The cost of implementing the plan is estimated at $20 million over the next five years.

    “We’re refocusing on our South Side parks as communities start to redevelop,” said Arnold Randall, Chicago Park District regional manager for the Southeast Region. “We decided, along with the University, that it would be a smart move to work together on this project because it would impact the campus and the larger community.” The Park District also is working on comprehensive plans to refurbish the South lakefront, including Burnham Park, Jackson Park, the South Shore Cultural Center and Washington Park in addition to the Midway.

    Hank Webber, Vice President of Community Affairs, said the Midway plan has been informed by contributions from a steering committee, community hearings, Olmsted scholars and the landscape architectural firms of Wolff Clements and Associates Ltd. and Olin Partnership Ltd.

    Webber said the goal is to increase utilization of the Midway by providing new programming and activities. Currently, the American Youth Soccer Organization, University intramural teams and adult soccer leagues are the primary users of the Midway.

    “Overall, this is an underutilized park space,” said Webber. “If you compare the Midway to Grant Park, you realize how much more there is to see in Grant Park, including the rose garden[midway], the softball fields or Buckingham Fountain. There is a sense of variety that the Midway doesn’t have.”

    In addition to a new skating rink and warming house, Webber said new “activity generators” will include a world-class children’s garden playground and an urban horticultural center with demonstration gardens. A health and healing garden may be located near the University Hospitals, and a reading and reflection garden around the Linne monument is proposed.

    Webber said the plan follows the recommendations of Olmsted scholars. The sweeping lines of the Midway will be preserved in its center panels, while the side panels containing the new gardens and plantings will replicate the plantings Olmsted originally intended.

    “We’d also like to get some notion of the bridges that Olmsted envisioned. We want to create decorative and monumental walkways that would provide views of the gardens and playing fields in the sunken panels,” said Webber.

    “The notion is these are spots to pause and reflect, looking at, perhaps, the Fountain of Time.” The proposed bridges would be located where the Midway intersects Dorchester, Woodlawn, Ellis and Cottage Grove avenues and would provide access to the sunken fields.

    “We’re proposing to plant the slopes that lead down to the sunken panels with 30 to 40 thousand bulbs,” said Webber. “The goal is to create a profusion of color in the spring.”

    Changes also include provisions for making the space a more operational park[], such as creating a drainage system for the playing fields, adding pedestrian-friendly lighting and providing restrooms, water fountains and trash receptacles. The Chicago Department of Transportation will propose techniques for calming the east-west traffic flow on the Midway. The railway viaduct also will be beautified and designed as a formal entrance to the Midway.

    The proposal also builds on such current Midway programming as the Boulevard Lakefront Bicycle Tour and a Jamaican Festival. Randall said the master plan also includes bringing outdoor movies, the Gallery 37 arts-education program and a summer soccer program to the Midway in addition to using the skating rink for summer concerts and community festivals.

    Webber said the skating rink, winter garden, slope planting, field improvements and traffic assessments are planned for the next two years.

    “In the next five years, we hope to see the first signs of the horticultural center, finish the other gardens, see changes in lighting, viaduct improvements and a couple of the decorative bridges,” Webber said. Long-term plans include a fountain at the east entrance of the Midway, a reflecting pool and other bridges.

    Randall said the Park District and the University have essentially split the cost of the $4 million skating rink and warming house. The Park District and other public agencies will fund approximately $10 million of the plan, working with private donors and the University to raise the remaining funds.