More than 100 members of the University of Chicago faculty are asking the Obama Foundation to move the proposed library honoring the 44th president to a new location because the plan as currently constituted is “socially regressive.”
The Obama Presidential Center will not provide the “promised development or economic benefits” to surrounding neighborhoods, the professors write and could cost more than $100 million in state funds.
“We are concerned that these are not the best ways to use public funds to invest in the future of Chicago,” the letter reads.
The library will also take over large sections of two historic public parks, Jackson Park and Midway Plaisance, and force the closure of a major South Side thoroughfare, Cornell Avenue. The professors argue it’s a “traffic-jam in the making.”
An Obama Foundation spokesperson said the library will bring hundreds of thousands of people to the South Side every year and will ”strengthen the economic climate in the region.”
“While we don’t expect everyone to agree with every element of the plan, we look forward to working with people across the community and the city to make the most of the opportunity to create a global destination that will showcase the South Side to the world,” the spokesperson said in a statement.
The letter has been circulating internally at the University of Chicago and was first made public by Blair Kamin, the architecture critic at the Chicago Tribune.
President Barack Obama lectured at the University of Chicago Law School from 1992 to 2004.
The proposed Obama Center will sit on the shore of Lake Michigan, next to the Museum of Science and Industry and across the street from the University of Chicago campus.
The project is being financed with private donations but is expected to require as much as $100 million in infrastructure improvements to the surrounding area.
Economic development spurred by the library is limited, the professors write, because “there is no available adjacent land in which to start a new business, set up a new café or restaurant, [or] bring another cultural center to the neighborhood.” The only new jobs created by the library “will be staff to the Obama Center.”
It will also annex 21 acres from Jackson Park, which the professors point out is on the National Register of Historic Places and is “one of the most important urban parks in the nation.”
“At a time of increasing complexity and pressure in urban life, Chicago should be dedicated to preserving our public parks as open areas for relaxation and play for all its citizens,” the letter reads.
Library planners also intended to turn a portion of another public park, Midway Plaisance, into an above-ground parking garage. But following the release of the public letter, the Chicago Sun-Times reported the Obama Foundation had reached an agreement to move the garage below ground.
The University of Chicago faculty write that they would be “pleased to support the Obama Center if the plan genuinely promoted economic development in our neighborhoods and respected our precious public urban parks.”
But they urged the Obama Foundation “to explore alternative sites on the South Side that could be developed with more economic benefits, better public transportation, and less cost to taxpayers.”