OPC ordinance encounters little examination
The substitute ordinance to authorize the establishment of the OPC in Jackson Park – introduced to the City Council by Mayor Emanuel on September 20 – was reviewed by the Council’s Committee on Housing and Real Estate on October 11 and approved for consideration by the full Council on October 31. JPW was unable to attend, but there is coverage in the Tribune, Sun-Times, and Herald. Thanks to Aldermen Raymond Lopez and Deborah Mell for raising questions about displacement – aka gentrification – driving out long-time neighborhood residents and for questioning the fact that the OPC would not be a presidential library as initially advertised. But many other important issues were not addressed at all.
In an earlier letter to the Herald, JPW highlighted three key issues that deserve careful scrutiny before there is a final vote on the ordinance: the lack of community input into the redefinition of the OPC site; the lack of clarity about public control of and access to the OPC campus once it is built; and the lack of transparency about the full cost of the project for Chicago’s taxpayers. Aldermen should be pushed to conduct a full review rather than provide the usual rubber stamp to the Mayor’s proposal.
City pushing its UPARR replacement land plan with SLFP-like process
Update readers will remember that the South Lakefront Framework Plan planning process did not allow discussion on the most important elements of the Plan: locating the OPC in Jackson Park, making all of the road changes the Obama Foundation plan demanded, and creating a merged/expanded professional-level golf course. Public discussion and public input on those key elements were always off limits.
Now it appears that the City has launched the same kind of faux planning process in order to advance its choice for the replacement parkland required under the terms of the Urban Parks and Recreation Recovery Act (UPARR) . Because the City received UPARR funding for improvements in Jackson Park, the National Park Service must review any proposal to convert parkland from recreational to non-recreational uses, as in the case of the OPC. To replace the parkland lost to the OPC, the City proposes to use the plot at the east end of the Midway (where the Obama Foundation once planned to build an above-ground parking garage).
In a recent meeting with the Midway Park Advisory Council (MPAC), the City promoted the idea of locating the one acre of UPARR replacement land that the City argues is sufficient on the east end of the Midway and offered four design alternatives for the space. The City argued that this was the sole appropriate place, strongly implying that the National Park Service (NPS) has all but agreed to the City’s plan. It has been learned that the City has held at least two other such meetings – one with JPAC – with the same scenario and that it plans more, all under the guise of gathering information. Design options are offered for discussion but the City’s preferred location, the one on the east end of the Midway, is the only space ”offered.”
Based on direct conversation with National Park Service staff at the September 17 meeting as well as on other information, JPW strongly doubts that NPS has come to any such conclusions about the amount of UPARR replacement land that will be required or about where it should be located. MPAC similarly has questions as to the nature of this planning process, and whether all relevant information is being fully shared. MPAC is going to write to NPS to ask for clarification. JPW is similarly investigating and will share what we find.
Obama Foundation financials draw attention
The Obama Foundation’s recently released IRS 990 filing for 2017 drew attention in several ways. The Sun-Times reported that very significant amounts of money were raised; that the names of major donors will now kept secret; and that Foundation officials were making very hefty salaries. These trends raised eyebrows in some quarters, including in a commentary by the Nonprofit Quarterly.
Concerns about the OPC’s impact show up in more places
Some Update readers may have seen the recent production of August Wilson’s “Radio Golf” at the Court Theatre. A review of the play likened the proposed gentrification project that is a key part of the “Radio Golf” storyline to the plans for the Obama Presidential Center, saying “Is Wilks’ Grand Hill District development any different than the Obama Presidential Library (sic)? I don’t think so….”
A long slog
We thank the many people who have contributed to JPW to date! The federal reviews of the proposed siting of the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park and the related road changes are on-going and the legal expertise your donations made possible have been essential to our effective participation. This is – and will continue to be – a long slog. Donation checks should be sent to Jackson Park Watch at P. O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615.
Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid
Co-presidents, Jackson Park Watch