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Obama Presidential Center Still Facing Controversies

The project will bring money and visitors to Chicago’s South Side, but the community wants more assurances that the future of residents will be a priority.
March 25, 2019, 11am PDT | Camille Fink
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Daniel X. O'Neil

Audrey F. Henderson reports on a series of ongoing issues surrounding the Obama Presidential Center, which will be located in Jackson Park on Chicago’s South Side. The center is expected to generate close to $250 million annually and bring thousands of jobs to the area, but concerns remain about the economic and environmental impacts of the project.

The Obama Foundation has refused to sign a community benefits agreement, but community activists say it is necessary to ensure accountability. Residents are also concerned that plans to close off a major thoroughfare in the park, along with the hundreds of thousands of visitors expected at the center each year, will result in extreme congestion in an area where transportation options are already lacking. In addition, a lawsuit filed by Protect Our Parks challenges the location of the center on parkland and will likely lead to project delays.

Henderson notes that worries about the long-term equity impacts of the project and the city’s geographic inequality are driving the opposition:

In many ways, displacement and gentrification represent the elephants in the room for the Obama Presidential Center. The disparity in income and amenities is significant between much of the south and west sides of the city and the more affluent North Side. Residents of neighborhoods adjacent to the proposed Obama Center fear that they will be priced out of their homes, especially if they are renters, says [Jawanza] Malone.

Still, Henderson says that the center will likely overcome these various challenges, unlike the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, which lost its bid to build in Chicago in 2016.

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Published on Monday, March 18, 2019 in Next City
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