Obama Breaks Ground on Presidential Center After Onslaught of Criticism, Gentrification Accusations

Updated: Oct 4, 2021



By Nyam Daniel

Despite five years of legal opposition, a federal review and gentrification claims, former President Barrack Obama broke ground on an eponymous $500 million multi-use campus on the South Side of Chicago this week.

The 19-acre Obama Presidential Center will house a museum, public library, playground, recording studio and pedestrian and bike paths, among other things, in honor of the beloved Chicagoan and the nation’s first Black president.

The Obama Foundation, which oversees the project, hopes it will bring 700,000 people to the area where Obama first started his political career. The foundation estimates that it could generate about $3.1 billion in financial benefits, create 2,500 permanent jobs and change the economic outlook for an adjacent mostly Black neighborhood.

Activists, however, have sued to block the center’s construction over concerns it would harm a park where it would be built. Others feared it would price longtime residents out of their homes.

The Obama Foundation, which oversees the project, hopes it will bring 700,000 people to the area where Obama first started his political career. The foundation estimates that it could generate about $3.1 billion in financial benefits, create 2,500 permanent jobs and change the economic outlook for an adjacent mostly Black neighborhood.

Activists, however, have sued to block the center’s construction over concerns it would harm a park where it would be built. Others feared it would price longtime residents out of their homes.

During a “Good Morning America” interview a day before Tuesday’s groundbreaking ceremony, Obama said he was sure the center, which would occupy a small portion of the 540-acre Jackson Park, would benefit the area.

“I am absolutely confident that when this thing is done, people are gonna say, not only will the park have been enhanced, but the people who use it are gonna get a different kind of experience,” Obama told ABC anchor Robin Roberts.

“The young person who’s growin’ up across the street or down the block or, a few miles away, now suddenly have a place where concerts and speeches and debates and forums are taking place that they can access.”

A group of grassroots activists, which includes a member of the NAACP, called Protect Our Parks, fought the Obama Foundation’s plans in federal court in April.

They claimed the project would disrupt Jackson Park’s natural design, destroy trees and cause traffic pile-ups in residential areas. A federal judge struck down the case in August. The judge said the group did not meet the requirements to block the center’s construction, but Protect Our Parks is now appealing that decision.

The activists have filed complaints to stall the project since 2018, Politico reported, when the foundation was in the process of obtaining the land.

After that suit was dismissed in 2019, Protect Our Parks appealed, but the judge in that case also said they lacked standing because they couldn’t show personal harm.

A spokeswoman for the Obama Foundation told reporters most of the 350 trees that are set to be removed from the site are “dead, diseased or in poor overall health.”


9 views0 comments