Preservation group proposes moving OPC farther south

By TONIA HILL
Staff Writer

Preservation Chicago is proposing that the site for the future Barack Obama Presidential Center (OPC) be moved farther south. Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago, 4410 N. Ravenswood Ave., said that moving the OPC south on Stony Island between 63rd and 64th Street is a better option.

Preservation Chicago is a grassroots advocacy group whose mission is to protect and revitalize Chicago’s architecture, buildings, and urban space.

In March, Jackson Park and South Shore Cultural Park were featured on Preservation Chicago’s list of seven most endangered buildings.

The group stated on its website that the “threats to these parks are three-fold and interrelated; the construction of the Obama Library in Jackson Park, the rehabilitation and construction of the golf course spanning both parks, and the various building proposals by Project 120 in Jackson Park.”

Adding that “The privatization of parkland is a concern across the city, including along the lakefront and in neighborhood parks for private events. The increased involvement of private groups in the management of public parkland is of concern, and sometimes may not be in the best interests of the general public. This includes the preservation of historic landscapes and structures which can, without oversight, be significantly compromised.”

Miller sees the current site location for the OPC, which is slated to be built in Jackson Park, near 60th Street and Stony Island Avenue as an “extension of the University of Chicago’s campus” into Jackson Park.

He is proposing that the OPC be housed as a cluster of buildings on Stony Island between 63rd and 64th streets.

Miller said moving it farther south would allow for service buildings near the Jackson Park Fieldhouse, 6401 S. Stony Island Ave., to be repurposed and revitalized.

Miller also recommended a community-wide discussion on the OPC.

Jackson Park Advisory Council President Louise McCurry does not believe the vision and design plans that were revealed early this month by Obama and the Obama Foundation could function in the same manner if the site were moved farther south.

“It’s [the OPC] is designed to be coupled with the Museum of Science and Industry [MSI] the Japanese garden and Wooded Island, McCurry said. “To suddenly put the library in the middle of the sports space makes absolutely no sense and there’s no room for it.”

McCurry also noted that all of the buildings surrounding the fieldhouse are in use for office space and storage and not abandoned.

McCurry believes the current location makes sense for the design concept for the OPC.

Margaret Schmid, a coordinator with Jackson Park Watch, maintains the groups’ stance which is that a comprehensive plan for all activities in Jackson Park must be developed.

Parking and traffic are also of concern to Schmid.

“[Former] President Obama has these great ideas for community outreach and community engagement, but having the actual buildings at the total north end of the site the plans are oriented toward the university and towards tourists,” Schmid said. If it were farther south, it would be much easier to successfully carry out community engagement and outreach that he has talked about.”

The OPC will house a library holding the presidential archives, a museum focusing on the Obama presidency, and space for programs and initiatives that advance the foundation’s public mission.

The design concept released on May 3, includes three buildings: the museum, forum, and library. The buildings will form a campus surrounding a public plaza.

The OPC will include a state-of-the-art museum, classrooms, labs, and outdoor spaces, and it will conduct programming for visitors intended to provide the tools necessary to spark change in their communities.

Groundbreaking for the project is expected to begin in late 2018 and construction of the building will take about four years.

t.hill@hpherald.com