By TONIA HILL
The Barack Obama Foundation, 5235 S. Harper Court, hosted a private invitation-only event, on Tuesday, Aug. 15., seeking feedback from community leaders about the design for the future Barack Obama Presidential Center (OPC), which included one idea for parking according to an Obama Foundation spokesperson.
The foundation revealed to attendees that it would fund and construct an underground parking garage between the Metra tracks and Stony Island Avenue under the Midway Plaisance.
“They would build a hill over it, so it would seem like it’s underground though it’s not actually below ground,” said Juanita Irizarry, executive director of Friends of the Park.
When former President Barack Obama, in May, presented concept plans for the OPC, he mentioned creating an underground parking garage in the same location. At the time, it was not clear who would pay to construct the garage.
“We were a little surprised that they just didn’t announce it or say we’ve reevaluated our thinking,” said Margaret Schmid coordinator with Jackson Park Watch. “It only came out from some pushing about how this was going to work. Unfortunately, we think that there needs to be more sharing with the public of what the foundation is doing and how they are going about it.”
Irizarry said, “I think it’s still an open question whether the parking lot will happen in that particular area or whether it’s a good thing.”
She added that if the foundation expects to have on-site parking, then they should see the underground parking garage as a cost for the OPC and should fund it.
Outside of community conversation meetings held in June and July the foundation, said Schmid, “has yet to announce any actual public meetings. This was yet again another invitation only meeting.”
The underground parking garage would hold approximately 400-500 cars and include a landscaped roof.
Officials at the meeting also said that they are cutting out another item from the original concept plan released in May. Initially, the design concept included pedestrian bridges that would connect the parking garage to the OPC the idea is no longer a part of their plan.
Other items mentioned at the meeting include traffic congestion and noise, the integration of the OPC campus into the Park, activity areas on the campus said Schmid.
“There was a great deal of concern amongst people in attendance about their [Obama Foundation’s] proposal to eliminate the perennial garden, and it’s unclear what they think they’re going to do,” Schmid said.
The Perennial Garden is a circular garden that is situated where Midway Plaisance meets Jackson Park.
“The site keeps expanding, none of that land has been given to them [Obama Foundation] by the city, and something needs to happen in order for that to be worked out,” Schmid said.
An Obama Foundation spokesperson confirmed that the meeting occurred but said that no decisions had been made on the parking proposal.