By AARON GETTINGER
Obama Foundation Chief Engagement Officer Michael Strautmanis explain the Obama Presidential Center’s (OPC) just-introduced use agreement, which is under consideration by the City Council, to community members during Ald. Leslie Hairston’s (5th) monthly ward meeting DATE. Strautmanis called the agreement “the last and final step” for the City’s sign-off on the OPC.
Hairston clarified that there were two distinctions in the OPC’s agreement: the Center will not be eligible for ongoing operating and capital subsidies like the other museums in Chicago parks, and the Obama Foundation’s use only extends for 99 years. Strautmanis said the use agreement was based on the agreements the City has with other museums in its parkland — for example, admission fees will be similar to those of the other museums.
Hairston also related the federal environmental and historical review processes, saying the next step of the process is the release of the statements of effects report. She said she supported the halting of track and field construction in Jackson Park pending the completion of the federal historical and environmental reviews; Strautmanis said the Foundation also supports the decision.
The Foundation is paying for the OPC construction but turning it over to the City once completed. Strautmanis promised the Foundation would run the OPC under established City guidelines for public use and access and maintain sole, unsubsidized responsibility for its operating expenses.
Strautmanis said the Foundation would read the concluding reports from the ongoing federal reviews and attend the related public meetings through the fall, which he said would correspond with the end of the City’s review.
“We intend on seeing that federal process through in its entirety and not rushing,” Strautmanis said. He confirmed that OPC construction is expected to begin next year and conclude in 2022.
After reviewing the OPC’s hiring and job creation plans — he said the Foundation’s goal is to be a “conduit” for sustainable development in the community — Strautmanis discussed the museum. He said it would include the history of the Great Migration and drew loud applause when he said it would emphasize former First Lady Michelle Obama, who grew up in South Shore. He told the audience they would have to be “part of the story” by taking part in interviews and contributing memorabilia to the museum.
“This is one time that this is about us, and this is us. We don’t have to go to anybody else,” Strautmanis said. “We don’t have to beg someone else to tell our story. This is our people from our community and our neighborhood who achieved great heights who think the world needs to know what came out of this neighborhood and the community. We have to humanize this thing and make sure it’s successful for generations to come.”
He also urged the audience to welcome OPC Museum Director Louise Bernard, who helped create the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, to the Fifth Ward.
Additionally, Strautmanis said the parkland would be fluid between the OPC campus and the rest of Jackson Park, emphasizing its accessibility and that it would operate under Chicago Park District hours of operation.
During questions and answers, Shawn Hawk said he was concerned traffic issues resulting from the track and field construction were a “portend of things to come” and worried about the closure of Cornell Drive. Hairston said that Stony Island Avenue would be widened and that an additional lane will be added to Lake Shore Drive. Strautmanis said that Obama himself was concerned about traffic congestion and personally commissioned a study that concluded that the OPC and assorted roadway plans would not make traffic worse.
Strautmanis declined comment on the Protect Our Parks lawsuit against the City and Park District seeking to preclude construction of the OPC in Jackson Park aside to say that the Foundation believes the plans are “consistent and proper.”
The Chicago City Council’s Committee on Housing and Real Estate will consider the use agreement ordinance at City Hall on Oct. 11 at 10 a.m.; pending approval, the full body will vote on the ordinance at its Oct. 31 meeting.