Reactions to Council action on OPC


Official Statement from South Side Neighbors for Hope

“We are thrilled by the unanimous (48-0) passage of the Agreement between the City of Chicago and the Obama Foundation for the Obama Presidential Center at today’s City Council meeting.  This represents a major step forward in bring hope to the South Side of Chicago, despite the various attempts at delay-and-divide by groups opposed to this progress.

“We look forward to working with the Foundation to ensure that all South Siders benefit from the OPC, which will provide resources to our citizens, particularly our youth, jobs to our communities and will reunify and reinvigorate Jackson Park, making it accessible and safe for all.  We look forward to our new Museum Campus South, which will attract people from all around the world to the South Side of Chicago, enhancing the MSI, DuSable and other cultural institutions within and surrounding the parks.

“We are moving forward with Hope!”

Erin J. Adams, SSN4H



Official statement from Protect Our Parks

With the City’s action today, long-time residents of the South Side can now start kissing good-bye to all hopes of their justified concern and need for the protection of a Community Benefits Agreement made a condition of City approval to build an Obama Center in historic Jackson Park. The consequences they feared are already being realized as carpetbagging speculators and money-grubbing insiders have emerged to drastically increase local rents and jump the price of locations suitable for redevelopment as high-priced condominiums, all beyond the ability of the duped locals to afford.

The only protection remaining is the lawsuit pending in District Court to compel relocation of the Obama Center to privately owned property in a non-public park site combined with the indispensable Neighborhood Benefits Agreement that will upgrade and improve local neighborhood conditions without causing displacement of the people who are living there. While the City has rushed to create the false appearance of a “Meigs Field” style fete accompli, the reality is that the ongoing legal challenge to stop what the City has been trying to bulldoze into existence will finally be given a trial hearing date when the parties meet for a status report on December 5. The Plaintiffs in the lawsuit believe that the City has inadvertently provided the final evidence of the land flipping ordinance adopted today to prove its illegality and fraudulent intent.

Herbert Caplan, president, Protect Our Parks



Official statement from Jackson Park Watch

“We think there are a lot of serious problems that have not been adequately addressed. One is cost to the taxpayers at a time where there are serious pension-related and other considerations coming down the pipe, then there’s the displacement of local residents, the loss of public parkland and also traffic problems that are likely to result from the road closures and realignments. We’re sorry that the City Council didn’t take time to really, thoroughly investigate these issues related to the project — which we do welcome to the South Side — and we believe these problems should be addressed before the project moves forward.”

Margaret Schmid, co-president, Jackson Park Watch



Official statement from Friends of the Parks:

Friends of the Parks maintains our firm belief that the Obama Presidential Center should not be built in a park. While we welcome it to Chicago and particularly the South Side with which the Obamas have such deep connections, we have consistently called for it to be located on the 11 acres of vacant land across the street from Washington Park.

We have long said that if it must be in a park, we will advocate for a “park positive” outcome, which includes the replacement of all green space taken up by the OPC and the recreational amenities that are displaced.

“Despite the manufactured fears that the Obama Foundation would pick up and leave Chicago if pressured, the details in today’s ordinances demonstrate the importance of public scrutiny and continued conversations to push toward the best possible outcomes for Chicagoans in the midst of what otherwise is a done deal,” said Friends of the Parks Executive Director Juanita Irizarry. “The limits to private events are key. We have registered with the Obama Foundation our concerns that such uses, along with possible heightened security when President Obama is present, might threaten to interfere with keeping this public land open to the masses. We are convinced that these and other elements of the usage agreements are direct responses to our insistence that if they are going to call the OPC campus a public park, there must be mechanisms in place to ensure that it truly remain open to the public. We will keep the pressure on until we hear acceptable and rock-solid answers to other operational questions we have posed in the vein of making sure it functions just like a public park.”

“There is still a lot of work to do. We don’t yet have a commitment from the Obama Foundation to pay for a new baseball field to replace the one that has to move to accommodate the plans for the OPC,” said Friends of the Parks Board Chair Lauren Moltz. “And we will not rest until a new location for it is found that does not take up existing green space. As a resident of Hyde Park, I find the National Park Service’s preliminary recommendation that a replacement baseball field be located on the Midway Plaisance to be impractical. A new baseball facility on vacant land near Jackson Park is in order and would go much further to convince Chicagoans that the Obama Foundation is living up to its promise to replace the parkland it usurps.”

“Additionally, the Section 106 and NEPA review processes must be completed appropriately before any of this can become real. We have admonished the Obama Foundation to live up to the highest standards of these federal review processes rather than trying to skirt some steps to move the process more quickly, as seemed to be happening in earlier stages,” said Friends of the Parks Board Vice-Chair Fred Bates. “Though we are not a party to the lawsuit, discovery materials from the Protect Our Parks legal action have brought to light various examples of lack of transparency and failure to be forthright, thus reinforcing our concerns. To no one’s surprise, there are elements of this process that have been masquerading as true public process. And the Obama Foundation has wanted the public to believe that they were not pulling all of the strings behind the scenes. It behooves the Obama Foundation, the City, and the Chicago Park District to be straightforward and honest with Chicago moving forward.”

Additionally, in the spirit of being a “good neighbor,” to use the words of the Obama Foundation, Friends of the Parks has encouraged them to pay for a new field house in Jackson Park. It would be unseemly for the OPC to create a new recreational building on its own campus while the Park District’s facility across the street remains run down.

Similarly, we have called upon the Obama Foundation to raise money to pay for all of the new recreational spaces envisioned in the Chicago Park District’s new South Lakefront Framework Plan. The Obama Foundation’s desire to locate in Jackson Park catalyzed a park visioning process which created huge expectation in the community. But what most people don’t understand is that most of the elements envisioned in the new Jackson Park and South Shore plan have no money attached to them. It behooves the Obama Foundation to ensure that the community doesn’t have to wait decades for the realization of new pickle ball courts, an official dog park, tennis courts, lawn bowling area, etc. that are supposedly coming in exchange for letting the Obama Foundation build on public land.

And, many neighbors remain unhappy about the changes to the nature sanctuary that would be imposed based on the latest golf course design, not the least of which is the part where one would risk getting hit with a golf ball while walking a section of the nature sanctuary path. Though the Obama Foundation has tried to claim that the golf course is not part of the OPC campus or project, it has been made clear that President Obama personally called Tiger Woods to ask him to design the new golf course and that the concept was part of the University of Chicago bid. All of the components of the new South Framework Lakefront Plan and the proposed OPC are inextricably linked. We have communicated to the Obama Foundation that they still need to make sure that the nature sanctuary situation is made right.

Sandra Del Toro, deputy director, Friends of the Parks