Candidates for District 25 State Representative share their views about Jackson Park and the Obama Presidential Center

Editor’s Note: All candidates running for District 25 State Representative were asked to share their views on this topic. Letters from Flynn Rush, Curtis Tarver II and William Calloway were not received by Herald press time.

How I would approach residents concerns about the Obama Presidential Center

When I’m out speaking with voters, there is one issue that comes up over and over. Residents are extremely passionate about the proposed Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park. I feel that it’s critically important for the residents of the 25th District to understand how I would approach this and future development projects, if elected.

Communities which host major tourist attractions face certain sacrifices and uncertain benefits. Sometimes the sacrifices are too great: casinos in Chicago, for example will never bring enough benefit to outweigh the costs. In other cases, including the Obama Center, we must develop an approach that articulates the benefits, creates benchmarks to guarantee them, and take steps to minimize the costs.

While it would be an honor for our district to host such a prestigious institution, the decision to locate the center in Jackson Park creates numerous complexities and more discussion is needed.

I will insist that any development projects in the district take the following steps: engage in a fair, open, and transparent design and acquisition process; ensure that the benefits are fairly distributed and largely kept within our community; and demonstrate that the project will be physically and economically integrated into the community.

There are many community concerns that have not been adequately addressed, including the proposed closing of Cornell Drive, the reduction of nature preserve land, and the use of public funds. There also has not been a comprehensive plan bringing together all the proposed enhancements to Jackson Park including the Obama Center, the new golf course, and other new development. I propose that all stakeholders take the time and resources to develop a unified and comprehensive plan for all of Jackson Park, discussed in open community meetings, including an open question and answer period in which community voices are not only heard by Park District and Obama Center officials responsible for their respective projects but also other members of the community. Further, there should be an opportunity for official public comment online for those unable to participate in in-person meetings to add their comments order to ensure full transparency and to ensure that there is a coordinated plan moving forward.

The second condition, ensuring that benefits are fairly distributed and kept within the community is more straightforward. I believe we cannot afford to commit public money to the construction of the Obama Center without a satisfactory community benefits agreement detailing procedures on local hiring, living wage, and the use of neighborhood contractors.

Finally, the center must be integrated into the community, as a hub, an organizing principle, a place of real local impact. I think of Boston, which hosts the John F. Kennedy library, a fantastic museum and research center which has no connection to, or presence in the troubled neighborhood of Dorchester which hosts it. The library is both economically and physically separated from the community, located on a peninsula, a 25-minute walk from the nearest public transportation station. We must avoid this fate for Jackson Park, as it would waste a massive opportunity to develop some of the economically depressed areas around the park and leave an ugly stain on the legacy of a man I and many other Chicagoans consider truly great.

Beyond the scope of any agreement between the community and the Obama foundation, but still critically important, we must take broader steps to mitigate the possibility of displacement of existing residents through gentrification. I’ve proposed a comprehensive renter protection package to shield all of our neighborhoods from displacement, and no agreement for the Obama Center should move forward without consideration of the lives of current residents in the immediate vicinity.

For decades the South Side was the industrial heart of Chicago. The steel plants and railyards brought prosperity and growth to the rest of the city while our residents bore the brunt of these industries’ environmental degradation, in our homes and in our bodies. Our communities can no longer afford to drive the rest of the city toward prosperity, while receiving little ourselves.

Grace Chan McKibben
Candidate, District 25 State Representative


Revitalization is a good thing

With the recent news of projected outlays of $175M in public dollars for infrastructure upgrades, the Internet is ablaze with more commentary around the Obama Presidential Center (OPC). As a candidate for Illinois’ 25th House District, future home of the OPC, I am happy to offer my thoughts to the discussion. I begin by offering my full support of the OPC and my excitement that it will be located on Chicago’s South Side. In addition, as State Representative, I look forward to working for my neighbors to ensure that this project is executed in a way that will revitalize our communities, and not displace families in its wake.

Revitalization is a good thing, because our southern neighborhoods have desperately needed an injection of economic development. I look at this through the lens of a policy-maker and want to work in Springfield to ensure that our future policy decisions are aimed at protecting families from displacement because of the future development this project will catalyze. As State Representative, I can and will fight to lift the ban on rent control so that local jurisdictions can come up with equitable plans to ensure access to affordable housing. As State Representative, I can and will advance legislation to help small MBE/WBEs gain access to bonding capacity so that we can see higher participation from MBE/WBE firms on public works projects across Illinois. As State Representative, I can and will stand up for working families to ensure that prevailing wages are paid for all services rendered on all our public projects.

On the use of park land: When I think about parks and their purpose as a safe space for all residents, as a place where people can convene for fun and fellowship, I am in awe of the landscape upgrades to the green space that the OPC architect has designed for the campus, as well as the sustainable and green goals to pursue LEED Platinum certification for the buildings on the campus. Creating functional outdoor space to bring people together will certainly increase the usage of Jackson Park as a place where neighbors and visitors can meet. I do not think that the usage of this corner of historic Jackson Park to locate the historic Obama Presidential Center fundamentally changes the function of Jackson Park as a safe space for people to convene plus it will help generate positive growth for the communities of the South side—growth and investments that have been long overdue.

On the closure of Cornell Drive: As a resident of South Shore, I use Cornell Drive often and although there is a proposal to close off part of this road, I would love to see the OPC team devise a plan that would allow it to stay opened—perhaps similar to what is done with Central Park in NYC. With future development coming to the U.S. Steel site through the SouthWorks plan for 20,000 homes and additional mixed-use commercial real estate, I do believe we will be thankful to have maintained rush hour access to Cornell Drive to reduce future traffic demands as that development comes to life. As the only person in this race with transportation and parking planning experience, a future influx of potentially 20,000 more vehicles will create more traffic than we’ve ever seen in South Shore, so this consideration should be made, now, before we are in a position where we’ll regret not having more routes available in the future.

On the Community Benefits Agreement: I am not opposed to Community Benefits Agreements, and I would love to see one for the $175M in projects related to the proposed infrastructure upgrades associated with the roads and other areas around Jackson Park. If public dollars are being invested in the neighborhood, then a CBA certainly makes sense, here. What I am also glad to see is the OPC engaging with Chicago Public Libraries on partnerships and how much of the center that will be free and open to the public. The developer agreement, too, has very strong goals for minority participation, including 50 percent of subcontracts being dedicated to diverse suppliers (35 percent to MBEs [Minority Owned Businesses], 10 percent to WBEs [Women Owned Businesses] and 5 percent to LGBTQ [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning], people with disabilities, and veteran-owned suppliers); this is at least $150M in contracts. There are also agreed upon goals that 7-10 percent of the subcontracts go to local businesses in Woodlawn, South Shore and Washington Park and half of all the construction work hours must be performed by minority workers and at least 10 percent of the total hours must be performed by local residents. Many of these goals, too, are actually higher than those required on public works projects in Chicago, Cook County and the State of Illinois.

There are many layers to the sentiments around the OPC, and I hate to see them divide neighbors along class and race. I believe that this project will help to connect and convene all our diverse communities of the 25th District and provide an opportunity to lawmakers to successfully achieve sustainable, inclusive neighborhood revitalization without displacement.

– Adrienne Irmer
Candidate, District 25 State Representative


The 25th District in Illinois is going to see rapid changes in the coming years

The 25th District in Illinois is going to see rapid changes in the coming years. The Obama Presidential Center located in our District and the planned South Works Development on the old U.S. Steel plant site beginning at 79th going to the Calumet River as well as the proposed Tiger Woods designed golf course will change our communities in both intended and unintended ways. These important projects will act as magnets for development which will impact everyday life for the residents of the 25th.

Most of the specific decisions will be made at the community, city and county level but the state will be involved in certain specific ways.

There are three areas where I think the state will be involved. First: I am concerned about the impact that development – gentrification – will have on the residents of Woodlawn, South Shore, the Bush and East Side. There are many families in these parts of the 25th district who have stayed for generations and I do not want to see them forced out because of rising rents or property taxes. The state can repeal the law, which prohibited municipalities from imposing rent control and this will allow Chicago to adopt appropriate ordinances. The city has shown a willingness to protect local residents with their tear down penalties near the 606 line. Briefly, the city makes the developers pay a mid six-figure penalty before allowing any single-family residence to be torn down.

Second, transportation will become a major issue because of the increase in residents, many of whom will commute, and the influx of visitors to the OPC. The state through the Illinois Department of Transportation, will be tasked with approving road closures (as the proposed closing of parts of Cornell Drive and Marquette in Jackson Park) or road “diets”; evaluating the proposed increase in capacity of Lake Shore Drive and Stony Island and formulating plans for traffic diversion, especially on South Shore Drive between 71st and 79th streets. It is the job of the State Representative to ensure that IDOT holds well-noticed, open and transparent public meetings on any of these proposed changes and not only listens to the community but incorporates the community’s suggestions into the final plan. Further, the State Representative should ensure that IDOT and CDOT develop realistic plans for the implementation of road closures and expansions, which do not unduly inconvenience residents of the 25th.

Additionally, it is the responsibility of the State to consider alternate modes of transportation, which is why I am in favor of exploring ferry service from South Works to Navy Pier with stops at Hyde Park/South Shore and Museum Campus. Ferry service would alleviate traffic congestion and improve quality of life.

Third, the State Legislature must approve money for infrastructure improvements. Currently, suggested infrastructure improvements include funding for breakwater redevelopment, which would protect and preserve La Rabida Beach and for underpass creation at 67th and South Shore Drive, which would allow and facilitate access to the Lake Michigan for families in Woodlawn and South Shore. Lake Michigan is a wonderful asset for Chicago and its families and I will support improvements that improve access for families.

Any infrastructure monies related to the Obama Presidential Center, the combined golf course and the South Works project must only be approved after compliance with all city, county, state and federal rules and regulations, including public (and appropriately advertised) public hearings. Appropriate reviews including environmental, historical and architectural must be completed and there must be full and transparent opportunities for community input and the community consensus must be reflected in any formal requests for funding. All of the above conditions must be met before there can be any realistic discussion of state funded infrastructure improvements. And any infrastructure bill must be considered in regard to the financial situation of the State of Illinois.

Respectfully submitted,
Anne Marie Miles
Candidate, District 25 State Representative


Obama Presidential Center will move the South Side Forward

On the brink of becoming one of the next global tourist destinations, Chicago and the South Side will move mountains to reign in all of its wealth. The south side, with many broken promises has been placed at the center of what our Former President Barack Obama has been all about; hope and prosperity. We all hope and pray that the Center will be all it is talked and propped up to be, a legacy and reinvigorated sense of resilience of people coming together for common good.

I believe in the community benefit agreements to lock in guarantees for people of the surrounding areas. The board of the nonprofit being independently selected with fresh new names is a good move in the right direction. We must do more for the people and the legacy of former President Obama. Being that I have spent a great deal of time in the area, talking to folks, going to community meetings, even running my campaign on the stance of bridging the gap of middle-class working folks with the top one percent, I want to make it work for everyone.

All major projects such as this requires unanimous support from the people that live in the district of the proposed agreement. We live in the 21st Century and people these days are not going for the okey-doke anymore. As lawmakers and as human beings we owe it to ourselves and the future generation to lay the groundwork now, not years down the line. I support my community before I support myself, it’s about helping someone that can’t help themselves. Yes, the conversation these days are very touchy amongst the community: we are in the process of putting in a library and much more on behave of the first African-American President.

In life things change for the better or for the worse and in this case, it could go either way. The proposed contract amongst residents talks about freezing property taxes and giving jobs to the people of the area. Some folks speak of race being an issue, being if all whites were to be working on this and not blacks. Or, if the Center came and did little to bolster economic development for black folks. I understand both sides and in doing so I am running for higher office to mend the broken gaps in racially equality. Every race is important and everybody at the top needs to be in line with the voices of the community before any groundbreaking construction begins.

– Angelique Collins
Candidate, District 25 State Representative