Timeline: Obama Presidential Center Meetings

Hyde Park resident Mary Anton (right) and others look over a model of the Obama Presidential Center (OPC) displayed in the foyer outside of the Regency Ballroom at the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place, 2233 S. Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, before the Obama Foundation’s meeting, Thursday, Sept. 14. The foundation gave an update on its progress on the design of the OPC and introduced the community to the OPC Museum Director Dr. Louise Bernard. – Marc Monaghan

A list of public and private Obama Presidential Center meetings that have taken place in 2017:

Tuesday, March 28 – The Obama Foundation hosted a community meet and greet reception with the architectural team for the Obama Presidential Center at the DuSable Museum of African American History. Invited guests met and spoke with architects Tod Williams, Billie Tsien and Dina Griffin. The design team discussed their backgrounds and general approach to design.

Wednesday, May 3 – President Barack Obama and Mrs. Michelle Obama host a community event at the South Shore Cultural Center, where they unveiled concept design plans for the Obama Presidential Center. It is during this meeting where the former President says that closing Cornell Drive is necessary to align with the design scheme for the Obama Center.

Obama said, “You can’t have little kids playing next to a road. You can’t have sledding into the road. You can’t walk to the Lagoon because there is no place to cross the street. Let’s restore Jackson Park to the original vision and let’s make sure traffic is accommodated down Lake Shore Drive as well as down along 59th Street.”

Wednesday, June 21 and Saturday, June 24 – the City of Chicago, Chicago Park District hosted the first in series of meetings throughout the month in relation to the Obama Center and related park improvements at the South Shore Cultural Center. The meetings included presentations from the Park District, the Chicago Department of Transportation and the Obama Foundation.

The purpose of the meeting was to gather community feedback about the future of Jackson and South Shore Parks. The meetings also served as a kickoff for a framework planning process for a new South Lakefront Framework. The new framework plan will be an updated version of the 1999 framework plan that includes Jackson Park, Washington Park and South Shore Cultural Center. The second meeting was held at Hyde Park High School.

Tuesday, June 27 – Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) hosted the third installment in a series of June meetings related to Obama Center and related park improvements at La Rabida Children’s Hospital.

Area residents who arrived 10 to 15 minutes before meeting time, were surprised to find that they would not be allowed inside of the hospital due to the size of the meeting space. The room could only accommodate about 75 people.

The meeting was set to start at 6 p.m., but the start time was delayed because of the mishap outside of the hospital. Hairston’s staffers passed out sign-in sheets for people outside to fill out with their contact information so that they would receive notice from the alderman’s office about a future meeting.

Obama Foundation Vice President of Civic Engagement Michael Strautmanis (second from right) introduces panelists (left to right) Michael Van Valkenburgh, lead landscape designer for the Obama Presidential Center (OPC), Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, lead architects for the OPC, and Dr. Louise Bernard, OPC Museum Director, during a community meeting in the Regency Ballroom at the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place, 2233 S. Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, Thursday, Sept. 14. – Marc Monaghan

Wednesday, Aug. 23 and Thursday, Aug. 24 – Chicago Department of Transportation hosted two meetings at the South Shore Cultural Center it was an opportunity for the public to weigh in on updated information for proposed roadway improvements related to the construction of the Obama Center.

The public was able to view a 20-minute presentation video, which provided a scope of the current conditions of roadways in and around the Obama Center, current traffic analysis, and proposed improvements to the roadways surrounding the OPC and other park related improvements. CDOT, in the presentation, asserted that road improvements show that travel time for drivers in and around Jackson Park will remain unchanged.

The proposal outlines adding one southbound lane on Lake Shore Drive from 57th Street to Hayes Drive, a signal controlled crosswalk at Richards Drive, and reducing on street parking in order to add two travel lanes.

Additionally, the proposal calls for adding two lanes to Stony Island Avenue from 59th Street to 63rd Street, maintaining on street parking and loading areas. New pedestrian crossings and underpasses will be added including one at 67th Street and South Shore Drive. Closed roadways will be converted to parkland. CDOT projects a gain of three to five new acres of parkland.

Thursday, Sept. 14 – The Obama Foundation hosts a public meeting at McCormick Place to hear updates on the construction and development for Obama Center. During this meeting, Obama, appeared by live stream and was asked directly about the foundation’s reluctance in agreeing to sign a Community Benefits Agreement. He indicated that the foundation would not sign a CBA.

President Barack Obama points out a detail on a provisional rendering of the site plan for the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park during a presentation at the South Shore Cultural Center, 7059 S. South Shore Drive, Wednesday, May 3, 2017. – Marc Monaghan

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.”

Monday, Sept. 25 and Wednesday Sept. 27 – The Chicago Park District hosted two public meetings at the South Shore Cultural Center. The purpose was to gather feedback on the current conditions of the parks and what they would like to see incorporated into the new South Lakefront Framework Plan. Park District officials provided updates on recreation, ecology, and programming in Jackson and South Shore parks.

Updates that were presented at the meeting on Monday were compiled based on feedback from the public during large-scale community meetings that the Park District participated in alongside the City of Chicago, Chicago Department of Transportation, the Barack Obama Foundation and Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th).
Park District officials took stock of park amenities, evaluated current conditions, recreation and passive usage and linked it with feedback from the community.

Friday, Dec. 1 – The Chicago Department of Planning and Development and Chicago Department of Transportation host at meeting at the South Side YMCA to evaluate the Obama Center and other park-related improvements and their impact on Jackson Park. The meetings kick-started a formal federal government review process. Representatives from the Obama Foundation and Park District were also present.

Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) speaks to a group of over 150 area residents outside the entrance to La Rabida Children’s Hospital, 6501 S. Promontory Drive, about organizing an additional meeting on the Jackson Park framework plan for area residents who were barred from entering the regularly scheduled 5th Ward meeting at the hospital as its meeting room space had filled to capacity, Tuesday evening, June 27. The meeting was the third installment of community conversations regarding Jackson and South Shore parks. The residents were there to hear about updated plans for the Barack Obama Presidential Center (OPC) and the golf course renovations at the Jackson Park and South Shore golf courses. – Marc Monaghan

The Obama Center, accompanying roadway changes and related South Lakefront Framework Plan improvements call for a federal level environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) as well as the regulations under the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) of 1966.

Jackson Park is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Jackson Park and Midway Plaisance Historic Landscape District. It was placed on the list in 1972.

The stated purpose of the review is for the city, the State Historic Preservation Office, other federal and state agencies, plus the public to weigh in on and “if necessary, mitigate the effects of the projects,” said the city of Chicago’s Department of Planning and Development’s website.

The city’s Department of Planning and Development and the Department of Transportation are facilitating the Section 106 review in coordination with the Federal Highway Administration.

Thursday, Dec. 7 and Monday, Dec. 11 – The Chicago Park District hosted two meetings at the South Shore Cultural Center and showed three new plans for the improvement of Jackson and South Shore parks with many old ideas included with the possibility of different locations for them and many new programs for activities and conservation.

For example, the Chicago Park District proposed moving the present track and field further south from the Obama Presidential Center to just north of 63rd Street. The district showed three versions of the plan, including building a new track and field, replacing and expanding the track and field to include a turf field for soccer, and forming a new a track and turf football field.

Russell Pike of the Jackson Park Highlands Association reports during a meeting at the South Shore YMCA, 6330 S. Stony Island Ave., moderated by Eleanor Gorski, Deputy Commissioner of the City of Chicago’s Department of Planning and Development, about possible impacts to historic resources in Jackson Park of the Obama Presidential Center and associated roadway closures, that a survey of Jackson Park Highland residents showed that more than 70 percent of respondents supported the development of the Obama Presidential Center, Friday, Dec. 1. – Marc Monaghan

Proposed plans also include the Jackson Park Fieldhouse, 6401 S. Stony Island Ave., and show it renovated in its present location, rebuilt and moved to 63rd Street, or renovated and expanded in its current position to include a new gymnasium.

The District asked for commentary on the three versions of improvements to the parks and that the public could mix and match ideas from the plans.

The plans were presented as if the Obama Presidential Center were to be built in its present location along Stony Island and 59th Street, but versions of the plans did not include proposed merger of two community golf courses.

Each of the three plans outlines where popular places such as the tennis courts, the dog park (Jackson Bark), track and field and or historic sites, such as the Iowa Building within Jackson Park will be relocated within the park and or renovated and repurposed.

In one instance a proposed new location for the Jackson Bark would be near the Iowa Building, which is located near the intersection of South Everett Avenue and 56th Street, and another plan places the dog park near the Inner Harbor, 6400 S. Lake Shore Dr.

Compiled by Tonia Hill, Staff Writer