Obama Foundation gears up for crucial Plan Commission meeting with UIC event

SHARE Obama Foundation gears up for crucial Plan Commission meeting with UIC event

Model of the proposed Obama Center before a meeting with the Sun-Times Editorial Board Friday, Jan. 12, 2018. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

WASHINGTON – The Obama Foundation continues to prepare for a crucial Chicago Plan Commission meeting, on Wednesday announcing a one-day training for community leaders at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Why is this important? Why is a June 19 event at the UIC Isadore and Sadie Dorin Forum being announced now by the Foundation?

Because the foundation is trying to organize community support before the plan commission meeting set for 10 a.m. May 17 in the City Council chambers, where its zoning and Lakefront Protection Ordinance requests are on the agenda.


The foundation wants to have something in the pipeline for UIC made public before next week. The commission and City Council will take up Obama Center requests for the zoning and other approvals, as the issue of community benefits agreement lingers and may become part of the 2019 mayoral contest.

Back in 2015, UIC submitted a long-shot bid to have the Obama Presidential Center located close to its Near West Side campus. Former President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle eventually selected Jackson Park as the site for their Obama Presidential Center.

This one-day training session at UIC is a minor consolation prize, given the enormity of the Obama Center project and the potential development it may spark eventually on the South Side. It remains to be seen how the foundation will bring in the West Side regarding the presidential center, heavily branded already as part of Obama’s shared South Side history.

The foundation and UIC are sponsoring a “Chicago Community Conversation,” an event bringing together a diverse group of approximately 300 local grassroots leaders to discuss the role of citizens in creating stronger communities.

“This one-day gathering, organized in collaboration with UIC, will include short talks, performances, and interactive conversations celebrating and exploring Chicago — of yesterday, today, and tomorrow,” according to the foundation. “Additionally, workshops and breakout sessions will allow attendees to connect with one another, share their work and ideas, and collaborate.”

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Though the foundation released a series of written pledges about diversity hiring and contracting goals last week, it’s not the same as having an independent monitor or a deal negotiated with a third party.

Some of the contracting language that is part of the foundation pledge package is aimed at bolstering West Side residents, and one of the construction firms in the Obama Center Lakeside Alliance building consortium is based on the West Side.

On Monday, the foundation announced some design changes to the Obama Center 19.3-acre campus in Jackson Park, with the lease part of the deal that will need a City Council vote.

A sunken courtyard that was to have been part of a plaza is now out of the plan, which allows more flexibility in the use of the space.

A children’s play area is moved to be close to Stony Island Avenue and main buildings in the complex. And the dual-purpose athletic/large conference center gets rid of its curvy top with a more standard roof, and increases in height by 2 feet to 20 feet.

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