HP Chamber Speak The Obama Presidential Center (OPC): multiple perspectives

By JOANN FASTOFF BLACKMAN
Chamber member

Construction workers, administrators and parking attendants. What do they have in common?

They are part of the economic impact of 6,493 direct and indirect jobs that are slated to be created during the construction phase of the Obama Presidential Center (OPC) and 2,175 direct and indirect jobs after the Center is open. The economic impact for Hyde Park will be significant.

Debunking the rumors regarding the Obama Presidential Center has been draining. So many concerns..so many issues..so many complaints..so much gossip. DOES ANYONE know the truth? Depends on who is talking.
Let’s start at the beginning.

In May 2015, the Barack Obama Foundation and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel announced that the Foundation and the Barack Obama Presidential Center would be located in Chicago’s South Side, and would be built in partnership with the University of Chicago. The Obama Presidential Center is being planned in Jackson Park, a 20-acre space of public land that is one of the oldest parks in the country.

The nonprofit group Friends of the Park(FOTP)subsequently opposed the loss of park land to build the center and threatened a lawsuit to block development. Thus far, they have not filed a lawsuit. As a matter of fact the OPC has met regularly with the FOTP as well as other community groups, and as a result of the conversations, made several changes to the design. A full list of changes can be found at www.Obama.org.

The selection of the South Side had sweeping local support for a number of reasons: economic development in the category of jobs and development; representation of those overseeing the project in the form of people of color, and stimulation of the local economy. As we all know, Former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama are both South siders.

The mission of a presidential library is to safeguard a president’s papers and to offer an impartial record of his time in office. However, in partnership with the National Archives, the Foundation realized that the framework in place for previous Presidential Libraries did not fully accomplish their goals. The Foundation does have an agreement with National Archives to share artifacts so visitors will still be able to view important documents, like drafts of President Obama’s speeches, but the OPC promises to offer more.

Unfortunately differing opinions have become part of this mission. Local neighborhood residents from the community feel they will be displaced by being evicted and/or being assessed with higher rents or higher property taxes in anticipation of the OPC.

The OPC says they will be bringing long overdue investment to the South Side and are committed to ensuring the project brings shared prosperity to the community, including preserving existing affordable housing and protecting against displacement.

Other matters of public opinion include groups that feel snubbed by their perceived lack of input to the many discussions concerning their neighborhoods. Some feel that no one from the OPC wants to hear or discuss their concerns. In addition, many residents believe there was a backroom deal made with the University of Chicago and OPC to get the winning bid. The bid has never been made public.

According to the Obama Foundation a commitment to applicants during the bid process expressed that the content of bids that was not applicable to city or public resources would remain confidential.

To ensure that community residents are offered jobs, OPC’s construction manager, Lakeside Alliance, along with other workforce experts, announced several job and workforce development fairs with City Colleges of Chicago to connect community members to construction job and training resources.

The OPC is slated to attract over 700,000 visitors to the South Side on a yearly basis, subsequently strengthening the community’s economic climate. Several studies estimate the impact will result in significant investment not only for the City of Chicago but especially for the South Side and communities surrounding the OPC.

The goal of the OPC is to break ground some time late this year and to open doors by the end of 2021.

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HP Chamber Speak is a weekly column written by the Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce