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Jackson Park patrons ponder impact of Obama Presidential Center

This field in Jackson Park along Stony Island Avenue is part of the site of the Obama Presidential Center. | Andy Grimm/Sun-Times

Jackson Park is a safe, popular expanse of green, well-served by mass transit and in a solid Chicago neighborhood. Those qualities make it a fine location for the future Obama Presidential Center and Library. It also means a lot of people are going to miss the playing fields and outdoor track that are in the Obama center’s footprint.

On a sweltering Wednesday afternoon, a few hours after news that Jackson Park had become the likely site for the Obama library, college students D’Andre Campbell and Jarvis Brown ran wind sprints on an artificial turf football field that was shimmering with heat. When the pair return from college next spring, they will be looking for a new place to train.

“It is a perfect idea. It’s the best decision that could’ve been made for Chicago,” said Brown, who lives about 10 blocks away and will play football for Alabama A&M University in the fall. “I just wish we didn’t have to lose this field.”

Campbell, an 18-year-old Western Illinois University student, said the facilities at the park are popular, but he also understands why it’s an attractive site.

DeAndre Campbell will miss some of Jackson Park facilities, like the turf field, but he knows the popular park is a logical place for the Obama Presidential Center. “People come out here from all over the city.” | Andrew Grimm/Sun-Times
DeAndre Campbell will miss some of Jackson Park facilities, like the turf field, but he knows the popular park is a logical place for the Obama Presidential Center. “People come out here from all over the city.” | Andrew Grimm/Sun-Times

“People come out here from all over the city,” Campbell said. “This is one of the safest parks in our city. People use it all the time.”

He said that was a point in favor of making sure whatever the future Obama library has to offer, it should include something for young people in the area.

“Kids need something to do,” he added. “Kids don’t have something to do, that’s when they get in trouble.”

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Despite the heat, half a dozen people jogged on the track, in section of the park that has been identified as best suited for the Obama library, an area on the western edge of the park, bounded by 60th Street to the north, 63rd Street to the south, and South Cornell Drive and South Stony Island.

Daryl Murry, 41, was more pragmatic. Murry has lived in an apartment complex across Stony Island Avenue from the site for 10 years and invests in real estate around the city. An attraction that will draw visitors to the city can only help the neighborhood, which, Murry notes, was already doing fairly well.

“It sounds great to me,” he said. “It will bring revenue to the city and that’s a good thing. I’m going to buy a piece of property around here. Prices are going to go up.”

The Washington Park site proposed for the Obama Presidential Center is next to the Garfield Green Line stop. Instead, it will be built in Jackson Park, which is a little farther from commuter rail lines. | Andy Grimm/Sun-Times
The Washington Park site proposed for the Obama Presidential Center is next to the Garfield Green Line stop. Instead, it will be built in Jackson Park, which is a little farther from commuter rail lines. | Andy Grimm/Sun-Times

Jackson Park got the nod over Washington Park, the final two options on the table after a lengthy selection process that weeded out other contenders, including sites in North Lawndale and at the South Shore Cultural Center.

Iesha Gray, 30, had hoped to see the Obama Library come to Washington Park.

“That’s what they do, is get your hopes up,” Gray said Wednesday as she sat in her car near a vacant lot two blocks west of Washington Park. “It probably would have helped us more [to get the museum]. I feel like the area is going in a good direction, we’re just in a rut.”