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Report of the Promontory Point Mediator, May 2004

Entire Report (web or pdf): Invisible Institute site site incl. plans:
City/Dept. of Environment site with city plans, updates
Peter Rossi contact
Point Wkg Group (Mediator's) webs

Mid-2003-2004 Series:
1: July 13 Task Force Preservation and Access Plan text

2: Reports and text, views, links to view plans
3: City counter/compromise plan, reinstated January 04
4: September 10 public briefing and summary
5: Reports of the Mediator of the Working Group meetings and process disc/complaints

6: Reports and Appeals March-December 2003
7: Reports, Appeals, Press from Jan.-Feb. breakdown period, incl. Mediator's Statement
8: Point dispute-statements-coverage-Rossi letter late Feb./March 2004
9: The March 9 summit and costing tasks to lead to final working group report due April 15
10: Listing on the '10 Most Endangered' list; disputes over plans and 1994 Memorandum and defenses of the rival plans
11: Latest Promontory Point news, expectations, perspectives
12: [This page] From the Mediator's Final Report

13: About, Reactions to the Mediator's Report

14: Reactions to the ad hoc group; during the period of its meetings, June-July 2004


CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS pp. 23-25. (emphasis added)

The controversy over Promontory Point has been widely seen as a conflict between two fundamental values: preservation and fiscal responsibility. Our analysis has delivered us to the conclusion that preservation and fiscal responsibility need not be in opposition. What is required at this juncture is a renewed design process and political statesmanship.

We have organized our conclusions and recommendations into three broad categories: design framework, maintenance, and relationships.

Design Framework

We have concluded, on the basis of information made available to us by STS Consultants and Shabica and Associates, that a preservation approach to the restoration of Promontory Point is technically and fiscally feasible. The plan we have reviewed conforms to the dimensions and specifications of the City plan. And it yields cost estimates, developed with conservative assumptions, that are significantly lower than the budget for the City plan:

Total budget for City plan: $24,278.317.36
Total budget for Figure 1 plan: $20, 742,233.35.

As we emphasized at the outset, the design reviewed in this report is an analytical tool. We are not recommending this specific design. Rather, it is our conclusion on the basis of our assessment of this design that a spectrum of different preservation strategies are technically and fiscally feasible.

A range of questions remain open. How wide should the promenade be? Is it advisable to incorporate limestone blocks into the promenade? How might access for persons with disabilities be achieved? What are the merits of the Community Task Force proposal to "rearmor" and retain the "coffins" on the east side of the Point and to repair rather than rebuild the south side of the Point? And so on.

Most of these questions have been much discussed, but they can only be resolved once agreement has been reached on the threshold question addressed in this report. And they must be resolved within a fiscal framework as well as a design framework. Some proposed design modifications would increase the total budget, others would reduce it.

Once a design framework has been agreed upon, the process of design refinement can quickly and definitively work through these questions. If agreement is not reached on the threshold question, however, the process will remain stalled as it has been for the past three years.

We recommend that a preservation design framework be adopted by the City and that an appropriate design team be constituted for the purpose of refining that design concept.


Our critique of STS's cost estimates for maintenance of a limestone step stone structure should not be interpreted as discounting in any way the City's concerns about maintenance. We would not want to be understood as minimizing the issue of maintenance in an era of chronic fiscal uncertainties. Maintenance is, we believe, the central issue. Greater clarity and creativity in addressing this issue might yield a plan for Promontory Point of which all parties could be proud.

In view of the flawed analysis on which the City has relied, we recommend that it reanalyze maintenance costs, giving proper weight to the history and current condition of the existing structure. This will yield a more realistic statement of probable maintenance needs. It will not, however, eliminate all uncertainties.

We recommend that the City explore with the Army Corps of Engineers the possibility of creating a maintenance reserve as part of the construction budget. This is a common practice for addressing precisely the sorts of maintenance needs and uncertainties that the City confronts at Promontory Point.

The maintenance reserve would be held in escrow, earning interest, subject to an agreement entered into by the Army Corps and the Park District that stipulates the conditions under which the funds can be accessed. such an agreement might also designate appropriate alternative uses of the funds, in the event they are not needed for maintenance.

Assume for the moment that the maintenance reserve was set at 10% of the total budget for the Figure 1 plan of $20,742.233.35 or $2,074,233.34. This would bring the figure 1 budget to $22,816,466.69--still well under the total fo the City's all-concrete baseline design.

Maintenance of the revetment structure is event-driven (i.e., the storm of the century could occur in the first year of its fifty year life). Hence one cannot project maintenance costs on an actuarial basis. In the absence of better information regarding past maintenance costs, it is difficult to predict how quickly the reserve would be drawn down. A wide range of different scenarios are possible. But a simple example will suggest the potential effectiveness of this approach: Assume a maintenance reserve of $2,000,000. Assume further that over the first twenty years of the structure's life, the reserve is drawn down $50,000 per year. Making conservative assumptions as to interest rates on the original sum, it is reasonable to assume that after twenty year the amount of the reserve would be over $2,000,000.


We have been privileged to witness the quality of effort that both community members and government officials have made to reach agreement on the best possible plan for the restoration of Promontory Point. That effort in itself is an important resource. The moment is at hand to harvest it in such a way that relationships between the City and the community are strengthened.


Report commission p. 1

This report was prepared at the request of Alderman Leslie Hairston and commissioned by the South East Chicago Commission. Its purpose is to provide an independent review o the feasibility of a "preservation" design for the restoration of Promontory Point.

The review was conducted by Wayne Brunzell. Mr. Brunzell is as civil engineer with as strong background in structural engineering. since October of 2003, he has served as technical advisor to the Promontory Point mediation process. He was selected for this role with the agreement of the parties represented in the Promontory Point Working Group (the Chicago Department of Environment, the Chicago Park District, the United States Army Corps of Engineers, and the Promontory Point Community Task Force.

The report was written by Jamie Kalven, the Promontory Point mediator.

We have prepared this report with the assistance of STS Consultants, the engineering firm that developed the City's proposed design, and Shabica and Associates, consultants to the Community Task Force. The conclusions and recommendations are our own.



This review can be seen as a continuation of the mediation process in that it engages questions identified but not fully engaged by the Promontory Point Working Group. It departs from the mediation process in that it is not a consensus document emerging from the Working Group. It is, rather, and independent assessment, informed by and undertaken in the spirit of mediation.

Promontory Point has been the focus of passionate public debate for several years. That debate has been particularly intense and polarized over the last few months. The dynamics of public controversy tend to heighten differences and eclipse areas of agreement. Positions harden and assume symbolic importance. Language is deployed strategically in an effort to seize rhetoric advantage.

The mediation process has been an effort to engender a different sort of discourse, a different sort of conversation. Among the things disclosed by this process are the extent to which both City plans and community plans have evolved over time and the degree to which each has affected the other. This dynamic is best seen not as a matter of "concessions" or "compromises" but of improvements.

The City started with an all-concrete and steel structure; the Task force with and all-limestone and wood structure. Today both propose reinforced concrete structures, each of which incorporates some limestone. One way of framing the central question is: how much limestone in what configurations and proportions can be incorporated into the revetment design consistent with sound engineering and fiscal practices?

Why has this narrow question proved so resistant and volatile? Two values, both deeply felt and passionately advanced, have collided in the Promontory Point controversy. Community representatives have advocated "preservation." Discourse about what is and is not "true" preservation can have and abstract quality, but the passions that animate such debates are visceral. They arise from the weaving of place, memory and relationship into the identities of individuals and communities. For those whose sense of themselves is not grounded in the particular place at issue, this intensity of feeling can seem unreasonable and disproportionate. It can give rise to suspicions that "preservation" is being wielded as a moral absolute that trumps all other competing values.

Representatives of the government agencies involved in Shoreline Protection Project have consistently and with equal passion expressed their sense of responsibility, in the words of Commissioner Marcia Jimenez, as "stewards of the public dollars." The weight of those responsibilities has discernibly grown in the course of the mediation process, as fiscal conditions at the federal level have become increasingly unstable and uncertain. In 2003, $15,000,000 appropriated for the Army Corps of Engineers for the purpose of the Shoreline Protection Project was pulled back and redirected. The Army Corps appears to be facing a similar shortfall in its 2004 funding. For preservation advocates, the intensity of the City's fiscal concerns can give rise to suspicions that it reflexively assumes any departure from its "baseline" plan must necessarily cost more.

Against this background, we make several broad assumptions for this report:



Is a "preservation approach" to the restoration of Promontory Point technically and fiscally feasible? That is what we have been asked to assess. We have done so within a comparative framework provided by the City's preliminary cost estimates for its proposed designs--the all-concrete revetment structure and the proposed modification of that design with two steps of limestone.

It is important at this juncture to distinguish between two types of questions: threshold questions that must be answered in order to go forward with the design process and various other questions that can only be answered sensibly once that threshold has been crossed over. The question of the appropriate design framework is a threshold question. The Promontory Point design process has been arrested since 2001, because the parties have been unable to agree upon an acceptable design framework. Once agreement is reached on this question, various other questions can be effectively engaged within that framework. Those questions cannot, as Rob Rejman of the Park District repeatedly pointed out in the Working Group, be productively addressed in isolation; they can only be rationally engaged in relation to one another within an agreed up[on] framework.

In the course of this report, we will occasionally flag but not attempt to answer questions of the second sort. In so doing, we are not evading these questions, most of which have been much discussed in the Working Group and elsewhere. Rather, we intend to keep this inquiry focused on the threshold question: is a preservation approach feasible? Once an answer to that question has ben agreed upon, questions of the second sort can be quickly and readily answered.

The vehicle for this inquiry is a review of a single design concept. The design we have chosen for this purpose is shown in Figure 1. The essential features of this design are four limestone steps and a promenade that incorporates limestone on the outer (lakeside) edge.

We chose this design, because we believe it will be generally recognized as a "preservation design," and because it allows a reasonable degree of comparability with the current Community Task Force proposal, the City's current proposal, and other design options assessed by STS in a report, dated January 27, 2004, that it prepared for the Promontory Point Working Group.

The design under review differs from the Community Task Force proposal in several respects:

The design under review can be loosely characterized as a combination of Option 3 and Option 4--see Figures 4 and 5--in the STS report of January 27 with the following differences:

We have chosen to focus on the design in Figure 1 in the interest of analytic clarity. This should not be interpreted a a recommendation of this specific design. Nor should our use of Figure 1 be interpreted as as judgment that this particular design is "preservation" and others are not. We will refer to this design by the neutral term "Figure 1," in order to remind the reader that we are using it as an analytic tool.

In conducting our review, we have relied heavily on information provided by STS Consultants and Shabica and Associates. Both have provided us with their drawings and costs estimates; both have answered numerous inquiries form us. We have also had the benefit of the January 27, 2004 report in which STS provides its own assessment of several design options.

In assessing the feasibility of the Figure 1 design, we have made independent inquiries of suppliers and contractors regarding costs. And we have closely considered the analysis and cost projections provided by STS.

Our review is divided into three sections:

The appendices contain drawings and budgets referred to in the body of the report.


Section headers and main conclusions in each

(By Gary Ossewaarde. View or download this body of the report from the Invisible Institute site.)


Promenade Structure (similarities and differences- Corps standards block promenade width reduction)

Inventory of Limestone on Site (2001 Associated Geologist report showed 90% plus are very sound and there's a lot.)

Use as toe berm (Figure 1 expands the 2 stretches with step-blocks into the water to 700' from the City's 400')

Unit cost for New Bedford Stone (Placement will be intricate but STS's range is wildly inflated; transport and milling/processing cost is lower than estimated by STS; it's readily available and has competition; total unit cost is c$178 including 30% hedge vs STS's $150-$350.)

Step Stone Structure (double layer of blocks is not necessary in the steps vs. water-toe; STS costing stone for the various options and vs concrete do not scale up; need to grout is confirmed)

Promenade (agree use of stone on promenade edge is problematic and may raise needed level of promenade)

MAINTENANCE COSTS "arguably the heart of the matter"
(minimum maintenance drove the City's design; park district now obligated to maintain; city rightly concerned but pressures skewed maintenance estimates and created a wild range of scenarios--partly because there was little maintenance in the past and the records are sparse and partly because (below) assumed greater inferior durability of limestone and cost of limestone vs concrete maintenance (flawed) was pyramided as more limestone was added, other flaws.)

Step Stones (recommends clear definitions and reanalysis of maintenance and its cost- and have a maintenance regime that minimizes downtime)

Promenade (costs here uncertain; STS's based on its analysis for the steps)

BASELINE CONSTRUCTION BUDGET (mobilization and demobilization cost estimate of 8% excessive-should be 3%; Field Office and Security use inflated timeframe; projects not part of this one are included in costs)


Figure 1. The analytic simplified preservation cross section
Figure 2. The City's modified plan (top two steps of limestone = 2/3 of width beyond the promenade)
Figure 3. Concept analyzed by STS in Jan. 27 report (a step above promenade in concrete then five double row in limestone)
Figure 4 (STS Option 3). Another analyzed as above (6 limestone double row steps leading directly onto promenade)

Figure 5 (STS Option 4). STS closeup of promenade (using limestone at edge of promenade, concrete under)

The mediator's report used a combination of 4 and 5 in developing its preservation-design test, "Figure 1," the first immediately below.

Mediator's views of suggested compromise cross sectional

more mediator's cross sections

another cross section alternatives