Residents and advocates gave mostly favorable public input on the National Park Service’s environmental assessment of the Obama Presidential Center (OPC) project over two days of meetings this week.
The environmental assessment, which is part of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review process, was released to the public on Sept. 28. Feedback on the report will be accepted by the NPS until the end of October.
A little under 30 people gave public comment at the virtual hearings on Tuesday and Wednesday, with the vast majority speaking in favor of the OPC (there was relatively little direct comment on the environmental assessment itself).
Those included members of local organizations like the Jackson Park Advisory Council (JPAC) and South Side Neighbors For Hope (SSNH), as well as citywide groups like the Chicago Urban League and YWCA Metropolitan Chicago.
Erin Adams, president of SSNH said the NEPA review was “rigorous, thorough, and expressively detailed analysis.” She also reported that the SSNH had collected 579 signatures of South Shore, Woodlawn and Hyde Park residents on a letter of support for the OPC. “We are so excited for the groundbreaking,” she said.
Russell Pike, president of the Jackson Park Highlands Association and 37-year resident of Jackson Park Highlands said, “the majority [of our Association] look forward to the construction of the Obama Presidential Center.” He added, “It is our belief that the OPC will represent a beacon of hope.”
Dorri McWhorter, CEO of the YWCA Metropolitan Chicago said, referring to the unique mixture of Caramel Popcorn and Cheddar Cheese Popcorn known as “Chicago Mix” said, “Chicago Mix popcorn reminds me of the Obama Center, it’s like a win-win.”
Karen Freeman-Wilson, the former mayor of Gary, Indiana, who took over as CEO of the Urban League last year, said that the OPC presented an opportunity for economic development.
“We are supportive of the plan as articulated, because we understand as has been laid out in the creation of jobs, in the creation of economic development, the opportunity that this presents our community,” she said. “If we in fact want to see and create real change, then we have to make real investments in our community.”
Two of those who voiced opposition to the NEPA assessment were Ward Miller and Mary Lu Seidel, both with the nonprofit Preservation Chicago. Miller, president of the group, reiterated, as he has at previous public meetings, that he supports a relocation of the OPC out of Jackson Park.
“The preservation and restoration should be paramount and not squandered for development to the point where it would experience death by a thousand cuts,” said Miller, who added that he would prefer the OPC be moved to the Washington Park site that was as an alternative during the initial selection process.
The advocacy organization Jackson Park Watch also criticized the environmental assessment and NEPA process in an emailed update to its supporters, calling it “a cumbersome process that seems intended to discourage or limit public input and to yield the predetermined conclusion endorsing the current OPC proposal.”
To submit a comment on the environmental assessment before Oct. 30, visit bit.ly/JacksonParkComment.