Obama Presidential Center Caves on Midway Plaisance

As was reported by several news outlets, the Obama Presidential Center (OPC) announced on Monday, January 8, that it no longer intends to construct a parking garage on the eastern terminus of the Midway Plaisance, in Chicago, but will instead construct an underground garage as part of its planned complex of buildings in the adjacent Jackson Park. The news came in the wake of strong criticism from advocacy groups, including TCLF, which, just days before, filed their initial comments on the Section 106 process now underway. The announcement marks a significant victory in the fight to prevent the OPC from building within the boundaries of Chicago’s South Park system, although Jackson Park is still under direct threat.

A spokesperson for the OPC said in a prepared statement, “After numerous meetings with the community and other valued stakeholders over the past months, the Foundation understands that many of those voices feel strongly that the parking for the OPC should be located within the OPC campus in Jackson Park. The Foundation has heard those voices.” 

The news was, however, tempered by further revelations that the OPC had meanwhile increased the planned height of the museum “tower,” slated for Jackson Park, to 235 feet, up from the initial 180-foot proposal. Covering more than nineteen acres of parkland, the OPC complex will also include a library building, an athletic center, and a meeting facility called The Forum.  

The OPC faced additional stunning criticism as nearly 200 professors and faculty members from the University of Chicago, where former President Obama once taught as a lecturer, issued an open letter in opposition to siting the OPC in Jackson Park. The letter voiced many concerns, labelling plans for the OPC as “socially regressive” and saying that “the Obama Center as currently planned will not provide the promised development or economic benefits to the neighborhoods” on Chicago’s South Side. The letter also bemoaned the fate of historic parkland: “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.” 

Jackson Park and the Midway Plaisance were listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1972; Washington Park was so listed in 2004. Although the Midway Plaisance has been spared from the planned parking garage, TCLF and other groups continue to call for the OPC to abandon all plans to build within the South Park system.

Jackson Park, Chicago, IL
Jackson Park, Chicago, IL - Photo by Steven Vance, 2017