Chicagoans Give Obama Anything But a Warm Welcome over Presidential Library Plan

Chicago residents are voicing their concerns over the planned location of the Obama Presidential Center.

Former President Barack Obama announced plans in May 2017 to build his presidential library; The Obama Presidential Center, on Chicago’s South Side.

After much-reported criticism of the original design plans, the Obama Foundation revealed updated plans in January, according to The Washington Examiner.

But the proposed location of the center has reportedly been attracting a lot of negative attention with critics lamenting the acquisition of historic parkland.

According to The Washington Times, the structure will take up nearly 20 acres of Jackson Park. The newspaper also reported that the renovations are slated to cost 100 million in taxpayer dollars.

Chicago resident Jerry Bruti complained to The Times that the presidential center is “taking valuable and irreplaceable parkland that belongs to all the people of Chicago” for the purpose of building an “empty monumental edifice.”

According to The Times, Bruti wrote a letter, published January 28, in which he recommended building on a vacant lot that is not already designated park property.

“My suggestion: Build the Obama Presidential Center on vacant land that is not already dedicated as parkland, perhaps in an area that needs rejuvenation; and while at it, maybe spend those millions of dollars to build and endow a state-of-the-art school, library, affordable housing or other facility that the people of Chicago really need and can use to improve their quality of life.”

Jackson Park is located in the district known as Woodlawn.

According to National Review, residents are concerned that construction of the center could lead to gentrification, forcing longtime residents out of the “minority-majority” area, and take over the gathering space for the community.

In May, National Review reported that protesters requested that The Obama Foundation sign a “community benefit agreement,” which would reportedly require the foundation to commit to “setting aside jobs for residents around the library, protecting low-income housing, supporting black-owned businesses, and strengthening neighborhood schools.”

Additionally, Review reported that The Foundation refused to sign the agreement.

Indeed, Obama replied to the request via video conference during a community event for the Center, back in September.

“The concern I have with respect to a community benefit agreements in this situation is that it’s not inclusive enough because I would then be signing with who?” he asked, according to The Chicago Maroon. “What particular organizations would end up speaking for everybody in that community?”

“I’m not an outsider here. I know the neighborhood. I know that the minute you start saying, well we’re thinking about signing something that will determine who is getting jobs and contracts and this, that, and the other, next thing I know I’ve got 20 organizations that are coming out of the woodwork, some of them that I’ve never heard of before…and—I’m being very honest with you at this point—we want to work with everybody in a transparent way,” Obama added.

Still, some environmentalists and historians are said to be concerned with the proposed location for the Presidential Center.

“Here’s our bottom line. If the Obama Foundation wishes to construct this center on Chicago’s South Side, that’s fine, but not on parkland held in public trust. The University of Chicago, which orchestrated the winning bid for the project, has plenty of land on the South Side that they could and should use. Instead, they’ve been adamant since day one that they must have historic public parkland for the purpose,” Charles Birnbaum, president and founder of D.C.-based nonprofit, the Cultural Landscape Foundation, expressed to the Examiner in a written statement.

Faculty at The University of Chicago issued a letter, supporting the establishment of The Obama Presidential Center, while also expressing concerns about the current plans, noting the issue of taking over historic parkland, as well as the Center potentially not providing “promised development or economic benefits to the neighborhoods.”

As reported by The Western Journal, The Obama Presidential Center faced harsh criticism in early January after updated plans revealed that the monument would include a test kitchen, yoga room and basketball court.

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