Jackson Park Watch Update, January 24, 2021

Greetings, all,  

We survived the election.  We survived the assault on our country’s Capitol.  We made it through January 20 (whew!).

JPW is alive and well.  Ground-breaking for the OPC is still not going to happen any time soon.  As so we carry on.

Our New Year’s Resolution is to take a hard look at the OPC:  Can the City afford the current plan for the OPC?  And what about all of those promised economic benefits?

Time for a hard look at the OPC’s costs and benefits

2021 has opened with reports in the Chicago Sun-Times and Crain’s Chicago Business pointing to the need for a fresh and detailed examination of the current plan for the Obama Presidential Center.

The Chicago Sun-Times’ recent editorial, while expressing high hopes that the OPC will provide a much needed boost to Chicago and the South Side specifically, also identified lingering questions about the project that must be addressed before it can move forward.  First and foremost is the need to reexamine the public cost of the project, especially the wisdom of allocating $175 million of City-controlled funds for the extensive and expensive roadwork required by the specific footprint of the OPC at a time of a pandemic-fueled fiscal crisis for the City.  The editors also lamented the intrusive impact of the 235-foot museum tower on the landscape of the park and neighborhood and expressed their hope for a re-visioning of that structure 

A lengthy analysis in Crain’s Chicago Business by reporter A.D. Quig focused also on the high cost of the OPC – especially the public cost to be borne by the City, but also the very large amount that must be raised  by the Obama Foundation to meet its obligations (some $500 million for construction and perhaps another $1.5 billion for a sustaining endowment). Additionally, she examined the frequent claims that the OPC would bring exceptionally large economic benefits to adjacent communities and to the City and Cook County generally. As documented in the article, these claims are based on very optimistic projections for numbers of annual visitors in the coming decade, projections that do not reflect visitor numbers or economic impact at other presidential libraries and projections that were made long before the pandemic disrupted tourism and other social activities.   Quig elaborated on her findings in a Crain’s Daily Gist  podcast , so be sure to listen to that discussion if you are not able to read the article online.

JPW’s assessments of costs and benefits

JPW has long been trying to assess the public costs and benefits of the OPC as currently proposed.  That effort has been hampered by the lack of transparency by the City and its failure to give a complete accounting of its financial liabilities and other promises it has made to the Obama Foundation.  We have developed two succinct documents presenting key points, both linked below

  • Appendix 1Will the Obama Presidential Center bring promised economic benefits to the South Side and the City of Chicago? examines whether the projected attendance figures are likely to be realized, the relationship between attendance and claimed benefits for the area, and whether the proposed Jackson Park location will spark new commercial and business development in adjacent areas.
  • Appendix 2: Can the City of Chicago afford the Obama Presidential Center as currently planned? shows in tabular form the costs to and responsibilities of the City and the Obama Foundation for implementation of the current OPC plan, including related road reconfigurations, as defined in the City Ordinance passed on Halloween, 2018.

You will note that these summaries do not attempt to address or quantify the non-economic costs of the OPC (e.g., loss of public parkland, documented adverse impact on cultural landscape, destruction of iconic Olmsted design,  clear-cutting of trees, implementation of the City’s climate action plan, etc.).  That’s another discussion.

The question we raise in common with the Sun-Times and the Crain’s report is not whether the OPC should be built on Chicago’s South Side – which it most certainly should be –  but whether the current plan for the OPC is necessary or even feasible given its high cost and given the current disruptions and unknown future impacts of the pandemic and of climate change on our society and economy.  Now is the time for a hard look at the plan and claims for the OPC.

Please feel free to share these documents widely.  JPW co-presidents Brenda Nelms and Jack Spicer would be happy to discuss these issues with media representatives and with interested groups and organizations via zoom.


Thanks to all who have supported us financially.  As always, we will welcome your contributions.  If you have any questions about contributing, please contact us at jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com and we will get back to you. 

You can contribute in three ways:

  • You can contribute via checks made out to Jackson Park Watch sent to directly to Jackson Park Watch, P.O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615.  
  • You can contribute via PayPal here(If you encounter difficulties with PayPal, please let us know.)
  • You can contribute via checks from donor-directed funds sent to our fiscal sponsor Friends of the Parks at FOTP, 17 N. State St., Suite 1450, Chicago 60602, ATTN Kevin Winters.  Such checks should be made out to FOTP with a note stating they are intended for Jackson Park Watch. 

As always, we thank you.

Brenda Nelms and Jack Spicer
Co-presidents, Jackson Park Watch