O? Yes! Chicago Plan Commission Approves Obama Presidential Center

It’s not unusual for there to be some pretty rancorous behavior when a new real estate development is presented to the public.  Chicago NIMBY groups are practiced partisans.  But it’s been many years since we’ve seen a scene like the one at City Hall today.  The spark for this fire was the Obama Presidential Center.

Obama Presidential Center model (Courtesy of the Obama Foundation)

Obama Presidential Center model (Courtesy of the Obama Foundation)

Inside 121 North LaSalle’s hallowed chambers the Chicago Plan Commission unanimously approved something of a real estate shell game that transfers a large chunk of historic Jackson Park from the Chicago Park District to the City of Chicago, and then onward to a D.C. corporation, The Barack Obama Foundation, on a long-term lease for an undisclosed sum of money.

According to the Chicago Tribune, protesters for and against started gathering outside City Hall at 5am.

Outside the chambers, organized community members shouted and protested against the idea that the famed community organizer’s namesake non-profit should build its trophy campus on 19 acres of public land.

Some worry about gentrification.  Others, rising taxes.  And still others demanded written promises that the Obama Center will benefit the neighborhood, after years of hollow promises from local politicians.  Specifically, they want a freeze on nearby property taxes, and low-income housing guarantees.

The Obama foundation has stated that the Center is expected to bring billions in revenue to the south side.  A figure that even some aldermen want spelled out.  At the meeting, a Foundation spokesman promised that construction companies would be selected based on race, and that career training centers would be founded to help local people get better jobs.

Two weeks ago, the Obama Foundation released a document outlining what it plans to do for the south side.  Highlights include:

  • We will serve as an economic engine for the South Side, attracting private investment, strengthening the local economic climate, and creating shared prosperity to help our neighbors build wealth.
  • We will be a resource to the communities surrounding the OPC, providing accessible space to gather, educate, socialize and entertain.
  • We will support policies and tools that incentivize the development of a strong small business corridor around the OPC and beyond

The Center’s construction management team is called Lakeside Alliance.  It has its own section of pledges in the document, which includes:

  • A minimum of fifty percent of our subcontracts for the estimated $300-350 million construction project will go to diverse firms.
  • Lakeside Alliance will host Career & Training Opportunity Fairs across City College campuses, beginning at Olive Harvey on the South Side.

You can read the full document here.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel wasn’t at the meeting, but issued a statement that reads, in part:

The Obama Presidential Center will not just create jobs, but create future leaders, and be an incredible economic, educational and cultural benefit to our great city. We are looking forward to next week’s City Council vote and the future of the Obama Presidential Center in Chicago.

The next step is Chicago’s zoning board, which is expected to approve the project next week.  Shortly after, the entire city council will give it a rubber stamp.  Though the outcomes of those two votes are widely considered in the bag, expect protests for those, as well.

The next real challenges are on the federal level.  Federal agencies still have to sign off on the plan, and a federal lawsuit has been filed against it.  The outcomes of those steps is somewhat less certain.


Location: 6225 South Stony Island Avenue, East Hyde Park

Author: Editor

Editor founded the Chicago Architecture Blog in 2003, after a long career in journalism. He can be reached at chicagoarchitectureinfo@gmail.com.

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