Groups Push Back Against Obama Library’s Jackson Park Location

The Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park may seem like a done deal, but some community groups today are saying not so fast.

They say there's a better location for the museum within earshot of the prime real estate the Obama Presidential Center's chosen in the middle of Fredrick Law Olmsted's prized public space.

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They say it could have a much greater impact on the community and a much smaller impact on the park.

The parcel chosen is wooded and natural, and at the nexus of where Jackson Park meets the University of Chicago Midway. Ward Miller of the Group Preservation Chicago says the foundation should leave that spot alone.

“We're looking at the hundreds and hundreds of trees in Jackson Park either diminished or lost or cut – in addition to numerous baseball diamonds and a really first-class football field with a running track that’s relatively new and well used,” said Ward Miller.

Miller says there's a better location just a few blocks south on 64th and Stony Island, where a dilapidated corner of the park could use the upgrade. There's a rundown storage facility, an old field house, and an overgrown tennis court that isn't in use.

“This could be a middle ground here,” Miller said. “This is a part of the park that could welcome the building without impacting it in a huge way.

Margaret Schmid of the group Jackson Park Watch agrees and says the plans as they sit now benefit the University of Chicago more than they do the community.

“It's really oriented toward the university, toward tourists and not toward the community at all,” said Schmid.

But the much larger Jackson Park Advisory Council is all in on the chosen location. The group's president, Louise McCurry, says the alternate site is an active part of the park with sporting events and community meetings.

“It's great for those kinds of things happening there,” said Louise McCurry. “It's not big enough, however, for the kinds of things the Obama library plans for.”

President Obama himself pledged that his center would help return Jackson Park to its glorious past, putting it in the same class as some of the city's other prized public spaces.

“How do we transform the park so it starts looking like Millennium Park and Lincoln Park?” said Obama.

The preliminary designs for the campus feature a tower and a low rise building built in to the park with trees and gardens. Obama’s also called for the closing of Cornell Drive.
But Miller says he and other community groups hope to help sway the designs and the location before it’s all said and done.

“It really needs a more robust discussion with the community and all of the residents of city of Chicago in general,” Miller said. “This is a Chicago treasure.”

The Obama Presidential Center and Foundation had this response:

“One of the guiding principles for the design of the Obama Presidential Center is to respect its relationship to historic Jackson Park, in part by minimizing the Center's overall footprint."

They are planning to break ground in 2018 with a possible completion date of 2021.

Follow Paris Schutz on Twitter: @paschutz

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