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Hyde Park, Woodlawn, South Shore

Future Obama Center Neighbors Walk Away From Public Meeting With Questions Still Unanswered

Advocates for and against the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park said they felt confused and underwhelmed by Monday's public hearing. "That Q&A thing, it's like a blow-over really," one resident said.

Abby Monroe with the Department of Planning and Development speaks with an attendee following the Monday Obama Presidential Center public hearing.
Maxwell Evans/ Block Club Chicago
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WOODLAWN — A public hearing on the Obama Presidential Center’s likely impact on Jackson Park was held Monday, but neighbors living near the site said the tense session was less useful than they expected.

The federally mandated meeting came after the city’s Department of Planning and Development found Jackson Park’s historic nature would be adversely affected by plans for the center.

A question from the audience noted the negative connotation of the term “adverse effect.” It’s simply the official way to describe changes that may affect the park’s standing on the National Register of Historic Places, said Matt Fuller with the Federal Highway Administration.

“With many projects throughout the state, it’s not unusual to have adverse effects on historic properties. Those projects move forward,” Fuller said.

Also discussed Monday were preliminary plans to upgrade the eastern edge of Midway Plaisance Park. The improvements would make up for land lost in Jackson Park to the future center’s footprint.

Pedestrian safety improvements, like raised bumps for the blind at road crossings and vibrating or audible crosswalk signals throughout the park, are also in the works, said Nate Roseberry of the Chicago Department of Transportation.

There was a sense that — whether for or against the Obama Center — neighbors expected more clarity out of the hour-long meeting, which was marked by numerous interruptions from the audience.

Those interruptions were a sign of the “outside agitation” that has marred the entire process, said Patricia Harper, a member of the Women’s Jackson Park Golf Club.

She came to the hearing to “balance out” the negative voices, but worried continued upheaval at public meetings would eventually scare the Obamas away.

“I hope they don’t do what they did to the Lucas Museum,” Harper said. “The economic engine that this will [be] will positively impact both brown and black people. We want to see that finally happen in Chicago.”

Torrence Cooks, who supports the Obama Center, said he came in with an open mind. He wanted to hear the valid concerns of people opposed to the project.

He didn’t get what he was looking for.

“That Q&A thing, it’s like a blow-over really,” Cooks said. “People ask a question but don’t really get an answer to it … I wanted to have a question-and-answer, back-and-forth conversation.”

Cooks said much of the opposition was from people who live in the “better parts” of the Woodlawn and Washington Park communities.

“They don’t experience what we experience over here by Cottage Grove,” he said. “If this can bring something to stop the violence just by giving young guys jobs and opportunities, I want to see why [they’re] against it.”

Attendee Frank Triggs said he submitted a question asking the reasons the center will be placed in Jackson Park, but time was called on the hearing before it could be answered.

Triggs figured the former U.S. Steel property at 79th Street and Lake Shore Drive, recently named a potential Chicago casino landing spot, would be a more beneficial choice for the entire city, rather than just one or two neighborhoods.

He said he thought the meeting would have given him a better understanding of the city’s and developers’ thought processes than it did.

“I can’t figure it out, because they never addressed the question,” Triggs said. “It’s not just the [Jackson Park] area, it’s the city of Chicago that needs to prosper.”

Comments on the city’s report can be sent to The public comment period closes Aug. 30.

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