Obama Presidential Center Clears First Hurdle | WBEZ
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Obama Presidential Center Clears First Hurdle

Chicago’s Plan Commission gave the green light to the Obama Presidential Center Thursday after more than six hours of public testimony.

The city’s 50 elected aldermen must also vote on the project, which they’re expected to do next week.

Ahead of the meeting, more than 100 protesters and supporters packed the second floor lobby of City Hall and shouted opposing chants. But it appeared that nobody flat out rejected constructing the presidential center.

From what I can see from your signs, you want it built, right? That’s what your sign says! So let’s get this done,” said Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th), whose ward includes the proposed construction site.

The Obama Foundation presented the construction plans, which include a museum, a public library, classroom space and new walking and biking trails.

Some people who spoke expressed concerns about losing public park land. Earlier this week, a small group of parks activists filed a lawsuit against the city to block the center from being built in Jackson Park. The city has not yet filed a legal response.

Others are concerned about current residents being pushed out if property values rise and rents go up. A coalition of community activists are asking for something called a Community Benefits Ordinance that would set aside 30 percent of new and rehabbed housing for low income and working families, freeze property taxes for long time residents, and monitor hiring. City officials have said it won’t do a formal community benefits agreement.

However, most of the people who spoke Thursday, including a dozen aldermen, said they support building the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park.  

“I have no apprehension, but are we talking about safeguards? Absolutely,” said Ald. Willie Cochran (20th), who represents Woodlawn, the neighborhood just west of where the center will be built.

He said there are already city programs in place to preserve affordable housing and guarantee jobs for community residents, like the Affordable Requirements Ordinance and the Minority and Women-Owned Business Requirements.

Becky Vevea covers city politics for WBEZ. Follow her @beckyvevea.

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