South Side community activists camped out in front of the Hyatt Regency at McCormick Place on Wednesday, 24 hours before top Obama Foundation officials will hold a public meeting at the hotel to discuss their program and design ideas for the Obama Presidential Center.
The dozen campers said they had to stake out an early spot to speak at the meeting because foundation officials haven’t heeded their calls for a community benefits agreement — a contract holding officials accountable for minority hiring, local business investment and other provisions as the Jackson Park center is constructed.
Organizer Jawanza Malone said “the community is not at the table” for design plans. “The people making the decisions aren’t from Chicago. They don’t live in the neighborhood. They don’t have skin in the game.
“They’re saying the right things, that they want to invest in the community,” Malone said. “We want them to put that in writing. We want the beneficiaries to be our local schools, our local businesses, our local residents.”
In a statement, the Obama Foundation said it has met with “thousands of people representing different constituencies, viewpoints and neighborhoods,” including CBA activists.
Thursday’s public meeting comes as the foundation’s design plans are being finalized in order to submit them to the Chicago Plan Commission by the end of the year and with some proposed elements, such as street closings, controversial.
“The Obama Foundation believes that the best way to ensure the Obama Presidential Center benefits the South Side community and beyond is through an ongoing dialogue with local residents,” said Michael Strautmanis, the foundation’s vice president for civic engagement.
“We believe that change on the South Side is developed by a real commitment to building trust and relationships. That has been our mission — not just in the planning and development stages of the OPC, but throughout this entire process,” Strautmanis said.
Malone said his group, the Obama Library South Side Community Benefits Agreement Coalition, was told that a CBA was not “the right tool.”
“That’s because they don’t want to be held accountable,” Malone said.
Woodlawn resident Jeanette Taylor settled down into a lawn chair outside the hotel Wednesday evening. She said a key concern for residents currently living near the center is the possibility of skyrocketing property values, taxes and rent costs.
“How are you going to prevent seniors from being priced out of the neighborhood where they’ve been their whole lives?” she said. “There needs to be a property tax freeze.”
Strautmanis will be joined at Thursday’s meeting by the museum’s director, lead architects and landscape designer. Doors will open at 5 p.m. with the discussion to start at 5:45 p.m. at the Hyatt Regency, 2233 S. King Drive.
The Chicago Park District also will hold hearings about the center on Sept. 21 and 25.