I am a long-time resident of the city of Chicago. I was born in 1946 in Provident Hospital and lived most of my life on the South Side of Chicago. I have a doctorate in U.S. History with emphasis on Chicago history. I worked for years as a volunteer with the Illinois Black Panther Party, then with Helen Burns and the Southeast Side Environmental Task Force, and with Hazel Johnson, founder of People for Community Recovery. I also enlisted U.S. Rep. Danny Davis' crucial help in closing down the waste incinerator in Austin, which we successfully achieved.

After reading about the push to site the Obama Center in Jackson Park, when both Woodlawn and Washington Park are available, and then reading about how the Chicago City Council steered around the law prohibiting a private entity to build on public land, and in this case prime lakefront land, it seems clear to me that the issue is not the Obama Center, but rather where the Obama Center is put that should raise eyebrows.

Imagine a gift of public land expressly set aside for public use only, given to a private entity and then made legal. There was a fight of allowing private businesses to build on this land right after the World's Fair closed in 1894. It failed because several very prominent people in Chicago loved their city and wanted to save the land for public use. Chicago is unique among Great Lakes cities in that most of the lakefront is reserved for parks and the public. That is very valuable land. What person would not, if he or she could, want to live in a highrise on Lake Michigan?
For developers, all those trees in Jackson Park sit in the way of big profits.  This is the issue (Protect Our Parks president) Herb Caplan is addressing. This fight he is making over the Obama Center isn't about Obama. It is about the precedent that this construction on lakefront property makes. If one person can do it, so can others. The profits would be enormous. Taxes would go up to pay for the de-construction of the park, of course. Everybody wins who is in on it. The rest lose. 
Jon Rice

(6) comments

jaye els

Let's just rename (Andrew) Jackson Park, "President Obama Park" and try to shame the Obamas in to moving back to the South Side of Chicago and invest some of their fortune and just their time in a (our) community they once lived in. As it stands, the Obamas have basically dined and dashed - they live in an exclusive Washington DC diplomat neighborhood and have also closed on a very expensive private estate on Martha's Vineyard MA - these places have ~ 0% of poor or working class Black African Americans. So, there's the solution - let's try to shame the Obamas to come home to the South Side of Chicago and invest their time and some of their fortune in to uplifting our South Side Lakefront Parks - make Obama Park the best public park in Chicago or in the nation. That would be a much better Obama legacy than the current god awful 23 story high rise OPC Obamanation.

Ross Petersen

I agree, the name of the Park should be changed, to honor President Obama. It should also be protected, and by locating his center on the Plaisance Hotel site, it could be. Another site is on ML King Drive, and these sites, they Don't take up public Park. President Obama has embarked on real estate projects far and wide. Latest is an estate in Hawaii, owned by the head of the foundation. It was once the setting for the tv show Magnum, PI. Yes, Houses in D.C., the Vineyard, now in Hawaii. Oh yes, he has a house in Kenwood, but it doesn't look like he lives there, anymore. He has moved on.

jaye els

I'm afraid all of our well reasoned letters and our wishes and just the principle of keeping our lakefront parks free and open to the public, this didn't stop the Obamanation OPC theft of Jackson Park. It looks like the current plan is going ahead. We might have some small chance of scaling down the project, maybe reducing the height of the OPC tower/temple from ~ 23 stories to something less say 12 stories, widening Stony Island and Lake Shore drive to handle increased traffic. The reports in last week's Hyde Park Herald envisioned 700,000 additional annual visitors to the OPC with no additional train mass transit. Maybe the Obama entourage will want to include a private airport, heliport in Jackson Park so they can fly in on a Lear Jet and don't have to deal with automobile traffic.

Ross Petersen

Mr. Rice, I was told after the Exposition closed, and after the fire that destroyed the remaining buildings, there were businesses that wanted to build, on this land. Their effort was turned back, and Olmsted's firm was brought back, giving us the Park we now have. My questions are who were these people, who recognized the value of this land? The Exposition gave rise to the 'city beautiful' movement, the need for urban planning, design. This Park is part of a chain of Parks, along the Lakefront, which most Chicagoans identify with. I think turning this land over, to a private foundation, basically gifting it to the foundation, this is a mistake which will set a troubling precedent. This is a mid-rise tower standing 235 feet, 23 stories, in height. Do we build this in our Park, or do we protest? I'd suggest you, and anyone with an interest in preserving Jackson Park, join Protect Our Parks, protectourparks.org. Today.


Excellent letter. Thank you Jon Rice. The following website presents a strong case for locating the Center on a site abutting Washington Park at 55th and King:


Ross Petersen

Dear Mr. Rice, I thank you for this well written letter, and I couldn't agree with you more. I too am a 'native HP'er' born here in the mid fifties. Growing up during these times there were two struggles going- one for Civil Rights, fair housing, and another - the care of the environment. I don't know whether you remember the Burnham brigade - a group of mostly Women, who were arrested, for tying ribbons around threatened trees in Jackson Park, back during the 1960's. This was an integral part of my upbringing, Many of us who are active today, our Mom's were part of that protest.

We Welcome an OPC to the South side, but feel the Park must be preserved. There are numerous sites large enough, outside of the Park. We have tried to engage in a conversation about the OPC but Obama doesn't want to talk to us. This hasn't helped the situation, and we've heard accusations that we are racially motivated.

Can you imagine that? There are Both Black folks and White folks in our group. We deny any racial motive and point out, this OPC is contrary to, the opposite of, All the good work he did for us, while in office. He increased the Parks, He protected our environment, He needs to re-think this Park location.

We have spent the last forty years increasing our natural areas all along the Lakefront.

The OPC is located directly in a major migratory flyway, it poses risks to wildlife, and we ask Obama to re-locate it to a non-Park location.

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