Park preservationists continue battle over Obama Center in Jackson Park

By Xinyi Zhang
Medill Reports

Protect Our Parks (POP) will replay a 1987 event when Hyde Park women go to Jackson Park to save trees on October 26. The preservation group will revisit the past by tying ribbons on trees that could be cut down to make way for the Obama Presidential Center, once construction is approved. The center is to be located near the Midway Plaisance at 60th and Stony Island Avenue on a site extending southward.

This is the latest salvo in the three-year preservation battle over whether the Obama Center should be built in Jackson Park. Construction remains up in the air pending the outcome of a POP lawsuit.

POP filed the lawsuit in federal district court in Chicago to prevent  the center from being built in Jackson Park last year and the verdict on it is expected in 2020. The lawsuit seeks to preserve Jackson Park, protect migrating birds and asks that alternative sites to be considered for the center.

People in the neighborhood also are worried that the Obama Presidential Center being will gentrify the community, raising housing prices and rental costs, and damage the historic park, which has served people from across the city for more than 130 years. Rents are already rising and people are being forced to leave,said Herbert Caplan, president of POP.

“I don’t like it (Obama Presidential Center). I was born and raised right here,” said lifelong Jackson Park resident Theresa Trabis. “Born and raised. And I like to see the rest of the generation enjoy it (Jackson Park) too.”

According to Caplan, the 235-foot high Obama tower is right in the path of the international migrating birds that fly through Jackson Park every season. The tower and the plan to cut down of trees would sabotage birds’ habitats and bird population, already reduced significantly since 1970.

“The tower will cause environmental consequences,” Caplan said. “The proposed construction in Jackson Park is unnecessary. There’s a lot of other better places.”

POP members contend that Michelle Obama wants the center to be built specifically in Jackson Park because she thinks this place can best represent Barack Obama’s legacy . Representatives of the Obama Presidential Center haven’t responded to questions regarding this point.

Caplan believes the center should be built in underserved neighborhoods where they need this investment more than Jackson Park does.  The center cannot help people who live around Jackson Park, he said.

According to the non-profit organization called Preservation Chicago, the proposed Obama Center is part of an on-going Federal Section 106 review process that is required under the National Historic Preservation Act of 1996 because of its historic significance and because the park is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Plans for the center are also under review through the National Environmental Policy Act, the Federal Highway Administration  and Urban Parks and Recreational Recovery.

The future of Jackson Park and the Obama Presidential Center remain uncertain. Members of Protect Our Parks encourage everyone interested in relocating the planned center to come to the event on Oct. 26 at 11 a.m. at 6100 S. Stony Island Ave.

Photo at top: The aerial view of Jackson Park. (City of Chicago)