Sunday, December 7, 2008

Third-Party Review and other Sugar Plums

posted by Peter Rossi

Our local NIMBYs burst with "community" pride as they relate how the they halted City plans to repair the crumbling Point revetment and restore the landscaping. As of January 17, 2009, it will be eight years since the first community meeting on the Point. The "community task force" has dissolved and shut down their stale web site. The Chicago Park District has shelved the project, awaiting the "Third Party Review." Park District officials are understandably gun-shy of the review process which has the nominal support of a congressman and the President-elect.

At HPP, we have tried to do a little reporting on the fate of our community treasure. Our own Elizabeth Fama called up Mr. Foxall who will be in charge of the Third Party Review, if it ever gets funded and off the ground. Her conversation reveals a disturbing naivete of Mr. Foxall about the history and use of the Point, engineering design constraints, and funding. But there is one thing that Mr. Foxall is very clear about: the Third Party Review is in limbo.

How can any real progress be made on the Point? Let's review the facts. The shoreline revetment program is funded by a combination of Federal (via Army Corps), State, City (department of environment), and CPD funds. In the late 90s, the Feds appropriated approximately $250 million for the entire shoreline project. At the time, this was supposed to fund about 65 per cent of the costs. The balance was to contributed mostly by the City and CPD. The project has proceeded in sections. As each section is completed, funds are drawn down from the Federal appropriation and matched with local support. It should be emphasized that there is no "line" in the Federal budget that supports this project. The Federal portion has be allocated by the Army Corps on an on-going basis.

A check with Rob Rejman, who is the project manager at the CPD, confirms that the shoreline project is nearing completion. Only the Point and Morgan Shoals (between 47-53rd) portions have no completed designs. All other sections have been completed or in the construction/bidding phase.

The funds for the Point must then be appropriated at some future date and depend critically on the continued availability of the Federal and local contributions. The Compromise Plan we have supported (and currently the only viable plan) would cost about $24 million. The CPD has also promised to restore the Caldwell landscaping at a cost of 1.5 million. No one knows the fate of this promise and the funding for landscaping. In the meantime, the revetment crumbles into the lake and a few ragged scrubs and trees cling to a barren landscape.

In order for some real progress to be made on the Point revetment, the following events must occur:
  1. Funds for the Third Party Review must be appropriated. The legislation authorizing the review does not specify an amount nor compel the Army Corps to allocate these funds.
  2. The review process must start and reach a design that meets engineering and aesthetic standards (min 6 months). It is entirely possible that the Third Party Review may fail to reach a design that is acceptable to all involved.
  3. If step 2) results in a design acceptable to all parties, the design must be approved by the Illinois Historical Preservation Agency (2- 6 months). This is required by the so-called Memorandum of Agreement (see E. Fama's post for details).
  4. The design must be completed to what is known as the 80 per cent point. The Third Party Review will not produce a design but only some guidelines. Completion of the actual design must be done by architects and engineers here in Chicago (6-12 mos).
  5. At the 80 per cent completion point, the design could be let for bids (6 mos).
  6. It has been estimated that construction would take a minimum of 2.5 years.
The most optimistic scenario has the Third Party Review initiated in 2009. This means that the earliest we could expect results (completion of steps 2-6) would be in 2014. Perhaps, some of our local NIMBYs, including the Hyde Park Sermonist, can use their personal influence with God to speed this up.

What disturbs me the most is not the prospect of more than 10 years of unnecessary delays, but, rather, the very real possibility that nothing will get done.

Mr. Foxall is already on record as stating that he would like to use materials similar (in color and texture) to what is already there. He doesn't like the color of concrete. It is not clear what he thinks of tinted concrete, but he should be aware that no one has yet figured out how to make a structure that would meet Army Corps standards for a 50+ year life with limestone structural elements. Anyone who has studied this project in detail knows that you need a concrete core and steel pilings. You can't apply limestone veneer, either. Some pipe dreams will be conjured up at his soiree but should get a big laugh from the engineers at the Army Corps.

If Mr. Foxall's group does succeed where all others have failed, there is the little problem of cost. Unless his design costs <= $24 million, it can't be built. We are now in the most severe recession since the early 1980s and, perhaps, since the 1930s. There is the very real possibility that the CPD and City contributions for the Point will not be available when the dust clears.

In any event, it seems likely that the restoration of the Caldwell landscaping will be a casualty of the long and unnecessary delays. This would be the ultimate irony as the Caldwell landscaping is the one truly historic aspect of the Point that could be restored. Funds for this must come from the CPD alone and are not strictly part of the shoreline project. The so-called community task force has done their level best to alienate Park District officials and the landscaping plan was an act of good faith by the CPD that has not been reciprocated.

Finally, there is nothing about the Foxall process that can insure that the needs of the users of the Point be heard. I fear that water access will be lost in the hub bub.

The most likely outcome is more of the same: eight more years of nothing.


chicago pop said...

Another very clear and informative post on a very tangled story that no one else is paying attention to. A glib rumor recently circulated that the steps outlined above could be completed by 2010 has nothing to back it up.

As with the Co-op, which was shut-down by members almost exactly one year ago now, neighborhood fantasies persist of following a certain course of action -- the increasingly ill-defined "Save the Point" campaign -- without regard to relevant constraints, in the belief that with only enough optimism and outside money, Hyde Park can continue to exist as a cozy dome of exceptionalism where the laws of retail, lending, and accounting (in the case of the Co-Op) or of engineering, accessibity for the disabled, and protection of lakefront landfill, and maybe even gravity, can be wished away if a certain minority declares it possible.

edj said...

The only thing that I can see that might help push this along would be Chicago winning the bid for the Olympics. The only problm with that wold be is that the Point would fall behind in priority behind a host of other projects. And it would still require the local match funding. The mayor does not have enough things to rent out to the private sector a la the parking meters to cover everything that needs to be done including public transit, the Olympic Village, streets, etc. I read that London is starting to regret their victory because of the economic slowdown hurting funding.

Richard Gill said...

EDJ is correct--There will be more pressing funding priorities than the Point if the Olympics are held in Chicago. However, the south lakefront will be regarded as a showpiece, and a collapsed pile of limestone blocks would be an embarrassment for the city, and particularly for the mayor. If, somehow, Save-the-Pointers prevent a reasonable solution through the Third Party Review process, the mayor could simply say, "Enough of this BS, already. Build the compromise plan." Or something close to it. Then, let Save-the-Point & Company attempt a sit-in inside City Hall. I can't wait to see the police booking photos.

If funds fall short, maybe the new city parking meter concessionaire could put 24-hour meters in the 39th precinct, at say $6 per hour. Five of the six dollars would go to build the point. The last dollar would be for erecting a concrete faux-limestone wall around the precinct. No in-and-out privileges.

Peter Rossi said...

our mayor has heard to say -- I don't care if the Point falls into the lake, I'm never doing anything for those people."

It's funny how our local NIMBYs turn everything they touch to sh&t.

Anonymous said...

Is it just me or has the HPH website been farmed out to a webcrawler linkspam purveyor? Clicking on "Current Issue" takes me to an external spam site.

Richard Gill said...

Greg -

That hasn't happened to me yet. But it's quite believable that, at any time, the Herald could go off into a limestone-induced limbo.

Elizabeth Fama said...

Two fascinating facts Peter has mentioned in the past and in this post: Burnham did not actually design the revetment (CPD engineers did), and the Caldwell landscaping is also historic. There are so many important, relatively unknown details in this complicated controversy. That's why the message "save" the Point is vague and over-simplified (but, I've always granted, it's also brilliant marketing).