Faculty members of the University of Chicago signed a letter asking the Obama Foundation to reconsider the placement of Barack Obama’s proposed presidential library. More than 100 professors assert that the current plan is “socially regressive.” According to the letter, the proposed multi-million dollar Obama Presidential Center will not provide the “promised development or economic benefits” to surrounding neighborhoods. Moreover, the library would come at $100 million in costs to the State of Illinois.
The letter reads, “We are concerned that these are not the best ways to use public funds to invest in the future of Chicago.”
The proposed Obama center and library will seize large areas of Jackson Park and Midway Plaisance -- both of which are historic public parks -- while it will also permanently close Cornell Avenue, a major thoroughfare on the South Side of Chicago. The academic who signed the letter believe that it is a “traffic-jam in the making.”
For its part, the Obama Foundation released a statement that asserted that the presidential library will attract hundreds of thousands of curiosity-seekers to the South Side every year and ”strengthen the economic climate in the region.”
“While we don’t expect everyone to agree with every element of the plan, we look forward to working with people across the community and the city to make the most of the opportunity to create a global destination that will showcase the South Side to the world,”a spokesperson said in a statement.
The letter had been circulating within the ranks at the University of Chicago and was made public by Blair Kamin of the Chicago Tribune.
The Obama Center is planned for a site on the shore of Lake Michigan and adjacent to the Museum of Science and Industry and across the street from the University of Chicago campus. While it is to receive private financing, the project is also expected to receive $100 million in state-funded infrastructure improvements to the surrounding area.
According to the professors, the projected economic benefits will be limited because “there is no available adjacent land in which to start a new business, set up a new café or restaurant, [or] bring another cultural center to the neighborhood.” They assert that the only new jobs will be “staff to the Obama Center.” The Obama Center will also annex as much as 21 acres from Jackson Park, which is on the National Registerr of Historic Places and is “one of the most important urban parks in the nation.”
“At a time of increasing complexity and pressure in urban life, Chicago should be dedicated to preserving our public parks as open areas for relaxation and play for all its citizens,” the letter reads.
A portion of Midway Plaisance, a public park, into an above-ground parking garage. Apparently moved by the publication of the critical letter, the Obama Foundation has since agreed to move the garage below ground.
While the University of Chicago professors assert they would be “pleased to support the Obama Center if the plan genuinely promoted economic development in our neighborhoods and respected our precious public urban parks,” they also called on the Obama Foundation “to explore alternative sites on the South Side that could be developed with more economic benefits, better public transportation, and less cost to taxpayers.”
The Barack Obama Presidential Center is projected to be a multi-building campus of classrooms, labs, and outdoor spaces “that provide visitors with experiences that inspire and tools to make things happen in their own communities,” according to the Obama Foundation. It will also provide public performance spaces, basketball courts, a restaurant, food trucks, as well as movie and recording studios. In a May 2017 presentation in the Windy City, Obama mentioned inviting filmmakers such as Spike Lee, and musicians like Chance the Rapper, to offer seminars in creating movies and music.
At the presentation in 2017, Obama admitted the political purposes for which the Obama Center is intended. He said, “We want this to be the world’s premiere institution for training young people and leadership to make a difference in their communities in their countries and in the world — that’s our goal.”