Obama Center Watch: A federal review, a push for a community benefits agreement, and a lawsuit appeal

Here’s everything you need to know about the latest developments and challenges to the Obama Presidential Center.

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It has been a busy few weeks for developments around the Obama Presidential Center.

On Monday, a federal review found the construction of the center will have “adverse effects” on the Midway Plaisance and Jackson Park Historic Landmark District. Meanwhile, two South Side aldermen made progress on a proposed community benefits agreement and a famed legal scholar entered the fray in a lawsuit challenging its location.

The federal assessment

The Assessment of Effects, which is required under Section 106 of the federal National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, documents the impact the construction of the center will have on the historical aspects of Jackson Park and the surrounding community. The review found that of the nearly 40 neighboring historic properties examined, the center will only have an “adverse effect” on the Jackson Park Historic Landscape District and Midway Plaisance. The report from state and federal agencies is one of many steps in a long review process, but the release shows the process is moving forward, which includes addressing those adverse effects.

What’s next? On August 5th, a public open house will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St., 1st Floor Theatre, where representatives from the City will briefly go through the AOE, discuss its findings and announce the next steps in the Section 106 process. A meeting with “consulting parties” will be held before.

Public comment can be sent to abby.monroe@cityofchicago.org until 5 p.m. on Aug. 30. 

You can read the full report here.

 The push for a community benefits agreement

Since a lawsuit challenging the Jackson Park plan for the Obama Presidential Center was dismissed last month (more on that later), the discussion surrounding a CBA has become a top priority.

Last week, Alds. Leslie Hairston (5th) and Jeanette Taylor (20th) introduced their CBA housing ordinance to the City Council, where it faces a long road, according to the Hyde Park Herald.

Hairston and Taylor say folks living around the park are already being priced out of the area. Their ordinance references a DePaul Institute of Housing Studies report that classifies the area surrounding the center as vulnerable to displacement and Redfin’s reporting that the area had some of the highest increases in estimated home values.

The ordinance also highlights how the creation of the 606 trail eliminated much of that area’s affordable housing stock. 

The aldermen want to avoid further gentrification by protecting existing affordable housing stock, build community wealth and minimize displacement. They also want to ensure that increased property values do not entice owners to sell leaving other residents vulnerable. The ordinance also calls for more incentives for non-profit affordable housing developers and opportunities for tenants to purchase buildings. They’ve proposed modifying the existing Affordable Requirements Ordinance including eliminating the in-lieu fee option, increasing the required amount of units, applying the ordinance more broadly and requiring affordable units be built on site. The ordinance would expire December 31, 2029.

It would also establish the creation of the Obama CBA community trust fund, a not-for-profit governed by an eleven member board of directors, and The Community Opportunity to Purchase Act.

The purpose of the trust is to create and preserve affordable housing, support home ownership, local employment, create small business opportunities and engage the community in local decision-making. It would aim to help prevent the displacement of low, moderate and middle income residents.

The Community Opportunity to Purchase Act is meant to preserve, maintain and create affordable housing by allowing residents a say in multi-family residential buildings being sold and opportunities to purchase.

You can read the CBA ordinance here.

Support from the mayor?  While mayor Lori Lighfoot supported a CBA during her campaign, she’s been mostly quiet about the recent proposal. 

On Saturday, Lightfoot attended a meeting with community members, according to Ald. Taylor, who made the CBA part of her campaign after she was priced out her own neighborhood of Bronzeville.

“This is my lived experience, not what I’m guessing … Chicago has been a city regardless of who you are, where you can be priced out,” she said.

The proposed ordinance has the support of at least 29 alderman. The next step will be meeting with North Side Ald. Harry Osterman, who leads City Council’s Committee on Housing and Real Estate, she said.

Ald. Hairston is confident the ordinance will move forward, noting this is just the beginning.

“We’re going to have something,” Hairston said. “There are limits to what we can and can not do, but we need to make sure it addresses different incomes … Housing is probably the most important thing, that’s why we started with that first.”

The Protect Our Parks lawsuit 

RELATED:

 

Obama Presidential Center can begin construction in Jackson Park, judge rules

Protect Our Parks has filed an appeal over their dismissed lawsuit, which focused on the legality of placing the center in Jackson Park and how the location was chosen. And now, University of Chicago law professor Richard Epstein, who wrote an amicus brief in January arguing against the location, will lead the legal team.The appeal will be heard by a panel of three judges.

Epstein’s argument is that the foundation basically owns the campus in Jackson Park and the library branch is a strategic diversion for many uses, he told the Hyde Park Herald.

“This is an exclusive lease for 99 years. That’s a transfer of property,” Epstein said. “How do you value a 99-year lease? What you do is you figure out the lease value for each of the periods, and then you discount them appropriately to their present value. If you’re talking about this property having some kind of value, 99-plus percentage of it is given to the Obama Foundation. All that the city has is free and clear use of the property after 100 years, maybe, which is of infinitesimal value.”

Obama Watch: Earlier this month, former President Barack Obama surprised students in his workforce readiness training program Obama Youth Job Corp.


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