Sunday, June 29, 2008

Promontory Point Update: or Rebutting the Herald...Again.

posted by Elizabeth Fama

Mysteriously tucked away in the Real Estate Guide of this week's Hyde Park Herald is a muddled article about the Point entitled "Learning the Latest about Promontory Point's Rescue." I'm a little alarmed by its contents -- which imply that the future of the Point is being decided in private meetings between Jack Spicer, Don Lamb, members of Jesse Jackson, Jr.'s staff, and the "third-party" representative, Horace Foxall.

My consolation is that the author, Crystal Fencke, got so many facts wrong or out of order, perhaps she's also misinformed about the nature of the meetings. For an accurate timeline of the Point Controversy, read this.

The Herald article begins with a self-assured proclamation that Robert Mugabe might enjoy: "The preservation of Promontory Point is clearly in view."

Honestly, the word "preservation" is a Point Savers red herring. The Point must be completely rebuilt. This process is not about historic preservation. It's about rebuilding, using a design and materials that maintain the character and uses of the site.

It goes on to say, "The limestone revetment will be restored."

Huh? We've already established that the final plan must have a concrete and steel base to meet the Army Corps' engineering standards.

"In 2006, Promontory Point made Preservation Chicago's List of Most Endangered Places."

Preservation Chicago is a private organization with no state authority. It's not the same as the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency (IHPA), which is an actual player in the Point controversy. Fencke may as well have told you that my private organization, Fama Family Swimmers, has placed Promontory Point on its list of Build the Frickin' Compromise Plan Already.

"The Chicago Park District, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the City of Chicago signed a memorandum of agreement (MOA) in accordance with the Secretary of the Interior's standards to ensure that the project would protect the historic value of the structure."

Here she perpetuates a classic Point Saver myth that some omniscient Preservation God duped the City into signing an agreement to protect the old revetment. The truth is that the City instigated the MOA way back in 1993 -- to block the Army Corps' first proposal of a rubble mound. Furthermore, the language of the MOA does not specify the building material, it merely says that the step design must be retained.

"The Illinois Historic Preservation Agency stopped the project."

The IHPA never stopped the Point project. And here's a little-known fact: the IHPA has actually approved the Compromise Plan which the Point Savers rejected out of hand. It's the Point Savers who have never stipulated any criteria that would make a proposal acceptable.

"Only Promontory Point and the area around Diversey Harbor have been left alone."

Construction along the Diversey Harbor stretch is proceeding, with something inferior to the Compromise Plan.

"[When the City unveiled its Compromise Plan] the community didn't accept this 'concreting over' of the sensitive historic site."

The Compromise Plan isn't a "concrete" plan -- it's a mixed use of concrete and the existing limestone blocks -- and the "community" didn't reject it, the Point Savers did it on our behalf, in a room that they stacked with a misinformed crowd, including children with picket signs. Even the Point Savers' own architectural proposal uses abundant concrete.

"The third-party review will be a three-day charette, or engineering planning meeting, with the community. "

An intensive engineering charette is going to include the "community?" I find this hard to believe, because until now Obama has been saying that the third-party review would be completely independent. Besides, two people do not a community make.

"The funds for the independent study have been authorized by the House and Senate, and now they're just waiting for approval."

Or the funds have already been appropriated, depending on which issue of the Herald you read. No one really understands this process, but the Herald likes to keep us updated anyway!

Don Lamb says that Horace Foxall (the head of the third-party review) is a "super, super guy."

I wonder how long Mr. Lamb's affection will last, given that Mr. Foxall is an Army Corps guy from Buffalo. Will Foxall overturn the Compromise Plan, which the Army Corps helped develop?

In the end there are only two outcomes from this charette: 1) more delays, and/or 2) approval of the Compromise Plan with tiny revisions, some of which may be bad (for example, the Point Savers have never been much interested in swimming access).

If #2 happens, you can bet the Point Savers will be claiming credit for a "preservation design"...and sweeping the eight years of unnecessary delay that they imposed on us under the rug.


Peter Rossi said...

I think the point that cannot be over-emphasized is that the Point Savers (who appear to be down to just two people!) can't tell you what they would find acceptable. They have already changed there minds at least twice.

They refuse to stipulate criteria for an acceptable design because it might bring this horrible FUBAR mess to a conclusion.

Let me try to stipulate some criteria:
1. Design must reuse all existing limestone
2. The design should have the same dimensions as the original (same height, width and elevation from lake).
3. The design must adhere to modern engineering standards for at least a 50 year life (note: the original revetment failed after less that 30 years).
4. The design should feature water access.
5. Deep water swimming should be legalized and sanctioned (after more than 60 years of harassment of swimmers).
6. Alfred Caldwell's landscape (which the revetment protects) should be restored.
7. The design should be doable with the $24 million already allocated
8. The design must comply with the MOA and be approved by the IHPA.
9. Part of the Point should be kept open during construction.

Guess what Point Savers -- the Compromise Plan meets all of these criteria. Get with the program or get stuffed.

edj said...

I expect that with the way the Point is going that there will be groups of spelunkers who will oppose the reconstruction because it will interfere with the rising number of people who are exploring the growing cave system underneath the Point. I am sure that someone will unearth a play at the Hyde Park Historical Society that was performed at the Lab School during World War II celebrating caving in Hyde Park.

Unknown said...

Why can't the FIx the Point contingent organize and insinuate itself into the process, like the Save the Pointe contingent of two? I'll join. I think all those who want the thing fixed already should have a say too. My son will be in college by the time it is fixed (he's 11 months old now).

chicago pop said...

I know a couple of people who have those "I Got Hosed"/"Save the Point" bumper stickers on their cars, though there are fewer and fewer of them, and it amazes me how rational people could have been duped.

Until I see articles like the one in last Wednesday's Herald. It's a fairy tale. The Point (damsel in Distress!) is rescued from The City (evil!) by The Community (good!) after a Long Struggle (led by Jack Spicer!) and now we win (preservation!) and can tell everybody (Herald's propaganda!)

When you grow up, however, you realize that fairy tales usually don't describe reality. If the Herald ever did more than write interest-group PR pieces, as they did with the Co-Op, we might actually learn about the complexity of the issue.

chicago pop said...

One of the distinguishing marks of political propaganda is the insistence that everything is going according to a plan -- in this case, the Point Savers plan -- even if things have gone wrong (scuttling entirely reasonable compromises, filling people's heads with misinformation) and that there is no conflict with anyone in "the community", there was no exercise of poor judgement, and that the folks in charge democratically represent everyone, that they know what everyone else thinks, and what they should think as well -- and therefore no one should blame them for botching everything up.

The tone of recent "updates" on "Point preservation" have all these attributes.

Elizabeth Fama said...

I think Peter's first comment should be a post of its own. Nicely done.

And Stephen, I'll try to reach Horace Foxall and see what he says about including others in the charette process -- although first I have to establish with him whether there's any truth to the idea that he's including "the community" in a hard-core engineering study. The whole premise seems unlikely.

Unknown said...

Elizabeth, yes the whole thing read a bit like a fairy tale when I read it. But, if there is a voice to be heard, the Fix The Point voice should be heard. One concern I have with blogs is they provide people an outlet, but that the voice doesn't reach out to those who need to hear.

It's funny to me how people just accept the crumpling point seawall as an acceptable place to send their kids to swim. Were the beaches littered with glass shards, slippery rocks, or random rebar jutting out unexpectedly, I'd think there would be outcry. Sooner or later, the odds are someone will be injured at the Point. Don't think it won't stop the Save the Pointers from suing the city when it happens.

I wonder how often Save The Pointers visit the Point.

chicago pop said...

I agree with Elizabeth that Peter's comment above on the 9 appropriate criteria for an acceptable Point design basically nails the issue on the head.

There's even more detail to the story under the Save the Point label, which includes the links to Elizabeth's timeline and detailed discussion of the Compromise Plan.

chicago pop said...

Stephen: I agree that the Fix The Point voice should be heard.

Ask Elizabeth for a Fix the Point bumper sticker!

Zig and Lou said...

Is there an accurate dollar figure on what has been spent so far just talking about 'fixing' the Point and what the talk will cost until the cranes come and begin the work? It seem that "the process" has become a lucrative business unto itself.

Peter Rossi said...

Zig and Lou-

very good point.

It is hard to say as most of the funds have been spent by the CPD on consultants to compile responses to some reasonable and other completely unreasonable proposals.

I'd say around 1- 1.5 million. The Point Savers claim to have raised around 90K. However, if you factor in the value of the time of various officials and community participants, we are talking about many more millions.

All of this would pay to restore the only truly historic aspect of the Point -- the Caldwell landscaping.

Zig and Lou said...

It seems the lesson here is talk is not cheap.

edj said...

Let's not forget the opportunity costs associated with the loss of use of the Point. There are people who, like Stephen and myself, who have not brought their kids to the Point because of the safety hazards - and my oldest is six.

Then there are all of the recent arrivals to Hyde Park who are just lain fed up with the obstructionism of the people who are too rooted in the community that they see people who have been here less than 25 years -- or three generations -- as rootless types just passing through who should not have a say in the community.

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised nobody has noticed that the chain link fencing the CPD put up a bit North of the Point (near the section they had started replacing with concrete) has been removed... or am I seeing things?

Zig and Lou said...

I read in the HPH that more money is going to be spent on another "3rd Party Study". It will be interesting to actually see how many millions of dollars get spent "studying" the Point before they do any work. I sure hope that the statue they erect on the Point to all of the people that have been meeting and talking about the Point for all these years is suitably large, bronze, and surreal.

Richard Gill said...

Speaking of this week's Herald, the lead story, and especially the editorial page, would have us believe that swimming off the Point is the only issue worth attention in Hyde Park at this time.

There are two possibilities here:

1. (Not very likely) The Herald got it right in its single-minded focus on Point swimming--all the other neighborhood issues have gone away.

(2). (Quite possible) After a six-month remission following its Save the Co-op psychosis, the Herald has simply relapsed.

Or maybe its just summer.

edj said...

I'm glad the Herald is back. I thought they were behaving so that the Obama campaign wouldn't have to answer questions about that screwy neighborhood paper in the Senator's neighborhood.

I find it interesting that people are complaining about ticketing swimmers at the Point when, if the compromise plan had been implemented, there would be legal swimming access available right now. But I guess that's all lost in the fact that police officers wearing bullet proof vests (what police officers don't?) got the woman out of the water and gave her a ticket. How can anyone clai that swimming isn't allowed. It's posted everywhere and every summer people complain about people getting ticketed for swimming.

I was especially amused by Daniel K. Gullo's letter where he complained that the police "...then forced the elderly woman to climb to the height of the rocks without any assistance. This was a humiliating process given her difficulty in handling the rocks."

Now if it's so safe to swim out there or to get in and out of the water, why would she need assistance climbing the rocks? She wouldn't have gotten any if the police weren't there.

Another point he made "But the mayor continues to punish us for stpping his so-called shoreline improvement of the Point (which has yet to fall into the lake as predicted)." Let me see. The rocks are hard to climb up without assistance when they used to be a promenade. This would indicate that the Point is falling into the lake. As does the fact that the ground is eroding underneath as indicated by the difference in the level of the stones of the top step and the soil.

I guess the point of the "Save the Point" is that normal rules shouldn't apply here (like the Corps regulations requiring a concrete core for the shoreline protection or swimming in a no swimming allowed area).