By TONIA HILL
Residents in Hyde Park and other surrounding neighborhoods are excited for the Obama Presidential Center (OPC), which is slated to be built in Jackson Park. The Obama Foundation, met with senior citizens, Tuesday, Nov. 29 at Montgomery Place, 5500 S. South Shore Dr., to discuss the center.
The library is in the early stages of development. As of yet, there aren’t any concrete plans for what the structure will look like or what exhibits the center will feature. Groundbreaking for the OPC, which will house a presidential library and museum, will begin in 2019, and is scheduled to open to the public in 2021.
Michael Strautmanis, vice president of Civic Engagement at the Obama Foundation said the Obamas are seeking to incorporate the community in every aspect of the center.
“There is so much deep, rich history that is here [Jackson Park],” Strautmanis said. “I want [people] to understand and appreciate and be able to experience the community that the center is in. We can create a world-class presidential center, but the opportunity is to have this center to be another part of this vibrant, beautiful, exciting neighborhood.”
During the question and answer period of the meeting, many seniors expressed their support for the center and although it is years in the making, they expressed their desire know how they could be involved with the programming.
Strautmanis, along with Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) were both on hand to answer questions and address concerns the senior residents had about the center.
Barbara Jackson, Montgomery Place resident and longtime southeast side resident, asked whether or not the OPC would be similar to other presidential libraries that are regulated by the National Park Service.
“Most of the presidential libraries are run by the National Parks Service, If that is the case for the center, what impact will that have on access?” Jackson said. “Are there limitations that the Park Service can put on to limit what types of activities can happen at the center?”
According to Strautmanis, some presidential libraries are designated as national parks over time, but the plans for the Obama Center are not to be designated as such.
“Our hope is that so much more of what happens here [OPC] is much more open to the public,” Strautmanis said.
The center will be situated right across from Hyde Park High School, 6220 S. Stony Island Ave. During the meeting, longtime Hyde Park resident Bill Hamblin expressed his concern about what would happen to park amenities such as the track, baseball field and basketball court and tennis court/dog park that are currently a part of the space that is planned for the center.
“We have all these wonderful amenities, and it’s not being maximized,” Hairston said. “We are not looking at taking away from the park we are adding to the park.”
Hairston assured residents that other parts of the park, such as the basketball courts near the Jackson Park Fieldhouse would remain protected. Also, she made it known that other areas in the park could be impacted, but could be relocated elsewhere in Jackson Park if necessary.
“They [basketball courts] are historic,” said Hairston, who added that people from all across the city come to play basketball at the courts because it is an unofficial safe zone and that there has not been a need for police presence.
“It is an understood rule that if you come in here to play you’re coming here to play, and that is it,” Hairston said. “It makes no sense to get rid of [it].”