Bradford Richardson, Washington Times. January 9, 2018
Grass-roots activists, conservationists and academics on Chicago’s South Side say the Obama Presidential Center, as currently planned, does not do enough to benefit neighborhoods badly in need of economic revitalization. The Obama Foundation rejected a proposed Washington Park site that would have made the center easily accessible through public transportation, opting instead for a lush Jackson Park location that overlooks Lake Michigan.
Charles Lipson, a political scientist at the University of Chicago, which sits just blocks away from the center’s future location, said Mr. Obama is “indulging himself” by building “a monument along the lakefront, where it will have a lot less positive impact than it could have had elsewhere.”
“Any community organizer worthy of the name would have put this museum on the west side of Washington Park, which desperately needs the economic revitalization and already has extensive public transportation in place, as well as easy access to the Dan Ryan [Expressway],” Mr. Lipson said. “That location, which President Obama rejected, would have been an unambiguous boon to the community and to Chicago.
In its current location, the Obama Presidential Center will not provide “promised development or economic benefits” to the local community, the professors wrote in the letter, and will cost taxpayers as much as $100 million in infrastructure renovations to the surrounding area.
The project will also annex more than 20 acres from Jackson Park, an urban park on the National Register of Historic Places designed by Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted, the landscape architects who designed Central Park.
“We would be pleased to support the Obama Center if the plan genuinely promoted economic development in our neighborhoods and respected our precious public urban parks.”
Following the release of the letter, the Obama Foundation reached an agreement Monday to move a 450-space, above-ground parking garage below ground. The garage was initially slated to take up five acres on the historic Midway Plaisance, another part of the Chicago park system.
A spokesperson for the Obama Foundation said the center has earned the support of “thousands of people in our community and across the city who have weighed in at public meetings, online, and in residential meetings around the area.”
The center will “bring upwards of 760,000 people to the South Side every year” and “strengthen the economic climate in the region.”
Despite such claims, a coalition of eight community groups on the South Side is demanding the Obama Foundation sign an agreement guaranteeing neighborhood involvement in the development and maintenance of the Obama Center.
The Obama Library South Side Community Benefits Agreement Coalition says “low-income, working-, and middle-class communities” will be “directly impacted by the development of the Obama Presidential Center.”
The coalition wants the Obama Foundation to provide job-training programs for local residents, support minority-owned business development, improvements to neighborhood schools and affordable housing and property tax relief for longtime residents.
Member groups include the Black Youth Project 100, the Bronzeville Regional Collective and Southside Together Organizing for Power.
The Obama Presidential Center is being financed with private contributions, but the center was initially sold to the public as Mr. Obama’s presidential library, which would have been administered by the federal National Archives.