To the Editor:
Recent letters to the Herald have emphasized misleading claims that the Obama Presidential Center will subtract public parkland from Jackson Park for private use. But the OPC utilization of the Jackson Park site is a public use, just as all of the other museums in the park are. The OPC will be more welcoming to the public than other museum campuses, since it will contain a branch of the Chicago Public Library and an athletic center that will foster collaborative programming with neighborhood institutions such as the Hyde Park Academy, the YMCA, and Jackson Park’s sports programs. As Barack and Michelle Obama have repeatedly stressed, the OPC is designed to be an asset to the people of Chicago and of the South Side in particular – physically, economically, and socially. It is a gift to the Chicago public, for their use.
Here are the plain facts.
The City and Park District retain ownership of all land in Jackson Park. The City and people of Chicago, not the Obama Foundation, will own the site. The OPC will bear the full cost of construction of the center. At the end of construction, the Obama Foundation will gift all the physical buildings of the center to the City, and then lease back the building and grounds for 99 years. During the term of the lease the Obama Foundation will cover the full cost of maintenance of buildings and grounds and operate under Chicago Park District guidelines for usage. Most of the buildings will be completely open to the public; the Museum will charge admission, and those rates will be set by sliding scale. The arrangement described above is pretty much the way all the other museums in parks operate.
On the site itself, less than 4% of the 20.4-acre campus will be covered by buildings. That coverage is less than 0.5% of the total acreage of Jackson Park, and is less than the new parkland that will be generated by closing a section of Cornell Drive.
A few letter-writers claim that they are not trying to drive out the OPC: “We want the OPC on the South Side, but let’s split it up and place it on vacant land along Stony Island.” Let’s be real: A presidential center is not a shopping mall attraction. The whole idea of splitting up the OPC shows utter lack of understanding of what a presidential center is, of the realities of urban real estate development, and of the logistical nightmare a segmented complex would cause for the bordering communities. But first and foremost, the whole idea shows a total lack of respect for our first African-American president and a lack of understanding of the Obamas’ vision of what the OPC can mean for the families and children that live on the South Side.
It really is time to stop looking backward at old transgressions and grievances and to look forward to the potential for the future of the children and families in communities that most of us in Hyde Park should not be speaking for. I don’t agree that you could put the OPC “anywhere” or “anyhow.” Jackson Park was the catalyst for the rebirth of Chicago 125 years ago. The placement of the OPC, literally and symbolically, marks the beginning of a new chapter of history for us all.
South Side Neighbors 4 Hope