U. of C. faculty raise concerns about plans for Obama Center in open letter

Staff Writer

Over 100 University of Chicago faculty members signed a petition expressing their concerns about the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park and have announced support of local organizations that are calling for community benefits agreement. The letter was made public on Monday, Jan. 8.

Faculty members outlined their views on the Obama Center through the petition. They argue that the Obama Center in its current form “will not provide the promised development or economic benefits to the neighborhoods,” because of the location of the Obama Center which will be near the Museum of Science and Industry and the University of Chicago.

The Obama Library South Side Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) Coalition is leading the charge for a written agreement with 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 that jobs be set-aside for people in the community, affordable housing and protection for homeowners, support and create black-owned businesses, and strengthen neighborhood schools.

Organizers through a CBA are attempting to get what the Obama Foundation has promised to the community in writing.

The two conflict because the Obama Foundation believes that it can meet the needs of the community without a CBA while organizers think a CBA is necessary and will be an added protection to ensure that the foundation honors its commitment.

“There is no available adjacent land in which to start a new business, set up a new café or restaurant, bring another cultural center to the neighborhood. It looks to many neighbors that the only new jobs created will be as staff to the Obama Center, hence the widespread support for a Community Benefits Agreement,” according to the petition.

The proposed site location for OPC is near 60th Street and Stony Island Avenue, which is right on the cusp of the entrance to Midway Plaisance Park at 59th Street, according to design plans released in May.

Other concerns expressed in the letter include transferring public parkland to a private entity “at a time of increasing complexity and pressure in urban life, Chicago should be dedicated to preserving our public parks as open areas for relaxation and play for all its citizens,” according to the petition.

The issue of accompanying roadway closures for the construction of the Obama Center was also mentioned in the petition.

“The planners also intend to close Cornell Avenue to traffic, thus making Stony Island Avenue the only major north-south thoroughfare on the South Side, other than the Interstate Highway. So every visitor who comes by car or by Metra will have to cross the busiest street on the South Side,” according to the petition.

The petition also made mention of the foundation’s proposal to add an above ground parking garage on the Midway. The Obama Foundation has since scrapped that plan due to opposition from the community. In a public announcement on Monday, Jan. 8, the foundation said a parking facility would be housed underground in Jackson Park instead of on the Midway.

Finally, U. of C. faculty is asking the Obama Foundation to consider an alternate site for the Obama Center: “We urge the Obama Foundation to explore alternative sites on the South Side that could be developed with more economic benefits, better public transportation, and less cost to taxpayers. 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.”