Early on in the planning for the Obama Presidential Center, officials were optimistic. Representatives from the Obama Foundation predicted the campus, to be housed in Jackson Park on Chicago’s South Side, would break ground on construction in 2018. The expectation was, by 2021, the massive center would be completed.
But as the Chicago Tribune reports, work on the Presidential Center appears to be at a standstill: ground has not been broken on the $500 million project (nor is there a new date), and there is no updated schedule for when the center will finally open.
According to the Tribune, the delay can be partially explained by a federal review process that has crawled along. But while the review process is cumbersome, it doesn’t completely explain the project’s current postponement:
The federal review is taking place because Jackson Park is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and because the development involves closing and expanding major streets. There have been public meetings as part of the review process, and a report examining how the development will impact the park was released in July.
But for four months, there have been no updates, and at least two major events have been delayed without explanation, officials involved with the review said.
The center is a massive undertaking. Current plans for the presidential campus include office space for the Obama Foundation, as well as a public library, an athletic center, and “spaces for large gatherings,” writes the Tribune. Outdoor recreation areas have also been drafted up; walking paths and a sledding hill are among the outdoor features slated for the Presidential Center.
Many longtime residents have voiced support for the project, which has been touted as a way to draw additional money and resources to the area (the Tribune reports about 2,500 permanent jobs are expected to be created indirectly through the center). But others have voiced concerns about how the costly campus could displace lower-income residents by driving up real estate costs in the area.
Notably, Barack Obama has opposed a community benefits agreement, which would protect longtime South Side residents from displacement by mandating 30 percent of all new and renovated housing units be set aside for moderate and low-income Chicagoans. The former president, once a community organizer, maintains that a CBA isn’t necessary because the economic stimulus provided by the center will be enough to support those residents.
But according to the Chicago Sun-Times, local aldermen say their constituents are already being pushed out. The delays and lack of communication about the center have not only made it difficult for these organizers and activists to monitor the process, but some have told the Tribune they feel shut out of it altogether.
Charles Birnbaum, founder and president of the Cultural Landscape Foundation in Washington, D.C., said there’s been “little engagement” regarding the project—a point of frustration since he’s one of the consulting parties. He and other consulting parties have been placed on mute during public conference calls discussing the center, he says. Nor has there been any outreach for in-person meetings.
“Preservation is a negotiation,” Birnbaum told the Tribune. There’s (normally) a give and take in the process … There’s a discourse that happens that hasn’t happened here.”