women's garden

A composite image looking to the west across the Women’s Garden in Jackson Park that has been proposed as part of the Obama Presidential Center (OPC) campus. This area has been proposed as the staging area for construction of the OPC and will be rebuilt with design changes after construction of the main area of the OPC campus. 

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.

Editor

Christian Belanger graduated from the University of Chicago in 2017. He has previously written for South Side Weekly, Chicago magazine and the Chicago Reader.

(2) comments

Ross Petersen

I made my comments, pointing out this tower lies directly in a migratory flyway. They omitted studies from the US Fish and Wildlife service that clearly show these routes. They left out the 800 to 1,000 trees that will be cut down, between the OPC and road widening projects. They didn't mention the loss of canopy, of habitat. Consider they are cutting down trees with a three foot diameter. We will see replacement saplings, with a three inch diameter, going in. There was no mention of the benefits of nature to city dwellers, that these Grand, stately old Parks are a finite resource - we only have so much of them, Placing the OPC inside the Park squanders this resource. We Should be protecting these Parks, for generations to come.

Save Jackson Park. Move the OPC

Herb Caplan

As usual all the voices in support of the OPC in Jackson Park refused to recognize that everything they said would apply to an OPC relocated to the Washington Park neighborhood, which was identified as the preferred site before former Mayor Emanuel screwed that all up. And, of course, no one wants to talk about the needless environment destruction and degradation of a 126 year old world famous public park. And all those voices in favor of that are the co-opted political puppets not the voices of the real people who use and benefit from the existence of the park for open, clear and free recreation and easy escape from the pollution, crowding, and stresses of inner-city urban life. Protect Our Parks has been in the park interviewing the real people who want to honor former president Obama in a proper location but NOT at their expense in in historic Jackson Park. The little people whose voices are never heard or valued. They will be soon heard in the soon to be released POP You Tube release

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