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It’s OK To Close Roads Through Jackson Park For Obama Library, Aldermen Say

The plan calls for the closure and widening of several roads to allow the four-building center to be built in Jackson Park.

A night view rendering of the Obama Presidential Center.
Obama Foundation
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CHICAGO — Infrastructure changes planned around the Obama Presidential Center advanced Thursday, as the Committee on Transportation and Public Way endorsed the closure and widening of several roads to allow the four-building center to be built in Jackson Park.

The measure closes the southern portion of Midway Plaisance Drive and Cornell Drive and widens south Stony Island Avenue and the northern portion of Midway Plaisance Drive. It also calls for the installation of barrier walls and stop lights on Hayes Drive.

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) said he was the “biggest critic” of the proposed closures, but thanked Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) and the Obama Foundation for “educating” him as well as the community.

“Change is hard,” Beale said. “But it will be better after than before.”

It does not hurt that the city won’t be on the hook for the cost of the infrastructure improvements, Beale added.

“A $172 million infusion is enough to change anyone’s mind,” Beale said, laughing.

Chicago Department of Transportation Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld said the road closure will unite a “fractured” Jackson Park and add between 4 and 6 acres of open space. In addition, it will make it easier and safer for pedestrians to access the lakefront, she added.

The roads are owned by the Chicago Park District.

The center also requires Lake Shore Drive to be widened and Marquette Drive to be closed, but those roads were not included in the ordinance considered by the committee on Thursday.

Aldermen added three provisions to require all contractors paid with state or local funds to earmark at least 26 percent of contracts for Black- and Latino-owned firms and 6 percent for firms owned by women. In addition, those firms must hire Chicago residents for at least 50 percent of the work hours and “project-area residents” for at least 15 percent of the work hours.

Construction firms paid with federal funds must hire firms that qualify as Disadvantaged Business Enterprises to perform a minimum of 27.7 percent of the work and hire “individuals from sociologically disadvantaged areas to perform at least 20 percent of the total work hours, subject to federal approval,” according to the measure.

The ordinance now heads to Wednesday’s meeting of the full City Council, where aldermen are expected to approve it, along with a revised agreement that will allow the center to be built in Jackson Park.

Part of that agreement requires city officials to monitor whether the $500 million project pushes long time South Side residents out of their homes.

The city plans to allow the foundation to use 19.3 acres of city land for 99 years for $10 — provided that the former president and his foundation can demonstrate that it can raise enough money to build the center and fund an endowment to operate it.

Before the center can break ground, it must undergo a federal review because Jackson Park is on the National Register of Historic Places. It must also survive a lawsuit brought by parks advocates.

Credit: Obama Foundation
A rendering of some of the proposed park land at the Obama Presidential Library.
Credit: Obama Foundation
Credit: Obama Foundation
A rendering of the view from inside the main structure at the Obama Presidential Center.
Credit: Obama Foundation
A rendering of the park land in the Obama Presidential Library plan.