Obama, officials address community concerns as they finalize plans for center

SHARE Obama, officials address community concerns as they finalize plans for center

President Barack Obama speaks at a public meeting at McCormick Place on Tuesday to discuss plans and zoning for the Obama Presidential Center. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

After weeks of laying the groundwork for his Presidential Center, former President Barack Obama and members of the Obama Foundation renewed their case to community members about the positive effect the center will have on the Jackson Park community at a public meeting Tuesday night.

Obama, who spoke and answered questions about the center, said that while he wants the center to be “meaningful and fun,” he also wants it to have a lasting impact.

“Twenty years from now, 30 years from now I want young people all across Chicago to look at this center and say, ‘This is a sign that I count and this is a sign that I can change the world,'” Obama said. “That’s more important than any other legacy I could possibly have.”

The public meeting is the latest in a slew of steps forward for the construction of the Obama Presidential Center.

Last week, Chicago’s City Council said the cost of overhauling the roads around the center’s Jackson Park site and related golf course would be $175 million. Funding sources would include the state of Illinois. Earlier this month, the Chicago Park District approved plans to close parts of Cornell Drive to create parkland.

At the Tuesday evening meeting, foundation officials, as well as members of Chicago agencies, tried to assuage community concerns about development and displacement, road overhauls and the future of Jackson Park. There were also sessions on the design and visitor experience of the center.

Over the next four years, the center is expected to draw 760,000 visitors annually, bring in roughly $3 billion in economic development, 5000 construction jobs, and 2,500 permanent jobs, Obama said.

Michael Strautmanis, vice president of civic engagement for the foundation, said 50 percent of subcontracts will go to certified diverse suppliers, meaning minority and women businesses as well as others.

Lakeside Alliance, a joint venture between five firms, which was tapped to be the construction manager for the center, will be penalized if it doesn’t meet that requirement, Pamyla Fountain Brown said.

“We’re taking this step by step, and getting people’s advice and criticism,” Strautmanis said. “We want to make sure our minority partners are not just a check in the box. We wanted to make sure our minority partners had a seat at the table.”

There will be career and training fairs and construction management classes. And, Brown said, Lakeside has already had meetings to hear from members of the community.

Venise Hardy, who works at Ada S. McKinley Community Services, said she was excited about what she heard about the foundation’s push for inclusive economic development.

“In the work I do, there can be a lot of division so seeing someone bring underrepresented communities together and try to help gives me hope,” she said.

Lifelong Chicago resident Rashieda Weaver, 60, said while she got her questions answered she’s still concerned about the longterm effect the center may have.

“I came here to hear from them and get my questions answered,” Weaver said. “What we didn’t get from this is what the financial impact will mean for the community. I’m excited that this is coming here, but I think there’s a lot out of the president’s control and it’s not his fault — he’s an ex-president, not God.”

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