Jack Crowe – Political Reporter on 11/08/2017
Former President Barack Obama is facing backlash from Chicago community organizers over his plan to build a sprawling 20-acre community center in the heart of the city featuring a sledding hill, recording studio and garden.
The Barack Obama Presidential Center, set to open in 2021, is being touted as a monument to the ideals of democracy, civic engagement, art and culture, but many Chicago residents are concerned about appropriating such a large swath of public land for the massive compound.
“It wouldn’t be Chicago if we didn’t have complaints about everything. . . . People are definitely excited about the library, without a doubt, but they are concerned about ‘how does it impact me?’” Ayoka Mota Samuels, director for a local youth center, told The Washington Post. “Chicagoans are like that about everything. . . . It means that we care about what’s going to happen in our neighborhood.”
Mota has heard grumblings from area residents who are worried the development will bring traffic and want to ensure the project will be staffed by people who live in the neighborhood.
Dozens of area community groups have asked that the Obama Foundation, the University of Chicago, which is hosting the presidential library, and the city to sign an agreement that would require them to draw 80 percent of the workforce for the project from the local community. The agreement would also mandate the groups commit to protecting low-income housing in the area.
Obama has pledged to hire heavily from the community and protect low-income developments but during a community meeting in October he came out in opposition to signing a legally binding agreement, according to the Chicago Tribune.
“The community benefit agreement concept is actually one that can be a really useful tool…if you have a bunch of developers coming in that want to build a high-rise or for-profit enterprise in your neighborhood,” Obama said via conference call at the meeting. “But here’s the thing: we are a nonprofit and aren’t making money. We are just bringing money to the community.”