Hundreds were in attendance at the Barack Obama Foundation’s public meeting, Thursday, Sept. 14, to hear updates on the construction and development for the future Barack Obama Presidential Center (OPC) at McCormick Place, 2223 S. Martin Luther King Dr.
The format of the meeting was similar to meetings held last month at the South Shore Cultural Center the only difference on Thursday was a surprise appearance by former President Barack Obama who appeared by live stream. Obama answered a few questions from attendees in the audience.
Jeanette Taylor, a member of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization and Woodlawn resident, got the opportunity to ask Obama directly about the foundation’s reluctance in agreeing to sign a Community Benefits Agreement.
Obama said a CBA could be a useful tool, but stated that the foundation is “a nonprofit. We aren’t making money we are just bringing money to the community.”
Obama said the foundation would implement standards on hiring, to ensure the community and residents benefit from the process “based on the input from the community.”
Last month, the foundation announced that four teams were under consideration for the role of construction manager for the OPC.
The foundation is asking construction manager candidates to “commit to awarding 50 percent or more of its subcontracts to “diverse suppliers”, which in addition to minority and women business enterprises include businesses owned by veterans, individuals with disabilities, and LGBTQ individuals,” said the foundation in a written statement.
Additionally, the foundation is requiring that no less than 35 percent of the OPC’s subcontracts to minority and women business enterprises. The candidates are also tasked with determining how it will recruit employees on the south and west sides.
Obama also stated that a CBA is not inclusive enough.
“In this situation, it’s not inclusive enough because I would then be signing with who,” Obama asked, “what particular organizations would be speaking for everybody in that community.”
He also mentioned that it would signal to other groups who could use it as an opportunity to be “the gatekeeper on this process.”
Taylor was one of a group of 15 people who stayed overnight outside McCormick Place ahead of the meeting on Thursday night. The group is comprised of members of the Obama Library South Side Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) Coalition.
Members of the coalition represent neighborhoods on the South Side that surround the OPC that will be housed in Jackson Park and wanted to be the first in line to speak with representatives from the Obama Foundation.
Neither Taylor nor members of the coalition were pleased with Obama’s response.
“I finally found a place to live and yet again I’m going to be pushed out of the community because we don’t have an agreement that holds anybody accountable,” Taylor said. “It’s no protection for the low-income and working families. They’ve betrayed us many times before with bringing something new into the community.”
Taylor, who gave an example, spoke about Woodlawn residents who lived in homes on 61st Street and Cottage Grove Avenue, “those people who lived in those homes were [told] they could move back. Now they are going to knock them down and build a Jewel. You’re making me choose between having a quality grocery store and housing.”
Organizers are pushing for a CBA to ensure that there is accountability from the developers of the OPC, the Obama Foundation, the city of Chicago, the Chicago Park District and the University of Chicago, who proposed the center’s location on the South Side.
A CBA is a contract signed by community groups and a real estate developer that requires the developer to provide specific amenities and development to the local community or neighborhood.
Principles outlined by the Obama Library CBA would require jobs to be set-aside for people in the community, protect affordable housing and homeowners, support and create black-owned businesses, and strengthen neighborhood schools.
Michael Strautmanis, vice president of civic engagement at the Obama Foundation; Louise Bernard, museum director for the OPC; Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, lead architects for the OPC; and Michael Van Valkenburgh, lead landscape designer for the OPC presented updates on the construction and development of the project.
The design team wants to create a place that inspires and entertains.
Strautmanis reiterated that the Obamas want it “to be a living, working center for engaged citizens.”
Valkenburgh said the design team aims to create a “seamless relationship between [Jackson] Park and the OPC.”
The design concept 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.
The museum, which is the tallest of the three buildings, will hold exhibition space, public spaces, offices and education and meeting rooms.
The forum and library buildings will be community resources for study and foundation programming.
Both the forum and the library will be single-story structures with planted roof terraces.
Pathways incorporated within the design takes visitors from the park to landscaped roofs above the library and forum. From the top of the buildings, there is a view of Lake Michigan, the Lagoon, and the plaza.
The OPC is designed to “re-establish the South Side’s connection to the Lagoon and Lake Michigan,” according to the press release.
The total size of the OPC will be between 200,000 and 225,000 gross square feet.