Barack Obama has rejected criticism of his planned presidential center after activists said the massive public works project would destroy a historic park and drive black residents out of the area.
The country’s first black president told ABC News on Monday that he is “absolutely confident” that the Obama Presidential Center in the old Jackson Park section of the city’s South Side will benefit the community.
“The truth is that every time you do a big project, unless you’re standing in the middle of a field somewhere, you know, and it’s on private property, there’s always going to be people who say, ‘Well, but we don’t want to change. We worry about it. We don’t know how it will end,” Obama said. Good morning America.
“That’s why we’ve gone through such an exhaustive process to encourage and provoke comments and concerns and criticism and suggestions from the community.”
The 44th president of the planned presidential center of the United States has been dismissed by critics as an ego trip gone out of control.
The news of the upcoming construction came less than two months after Obama sparked controversy by hosting a 60th birthday party at his massive home on Martha’s Vineyard at the height of the COVID Delta wave.
Obama’s presidential center is set to take another step closer to its physical future on Tuesday, when ground is broken after years of assessments, other delays and ongoing local opposition.
Obama and his wife, Michelle, will attend a groundbreaking ceremony in front of the Obama Presidential Center in Chicago on Tuesday along with Illinois Governor JB Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot.
Former President Barack Obama Says His New Presidential Center To Be Built In The Jackson Park Section Of Chicago’s South Side Will Benefit The Community
“Michelle and I couldn’t be more excited to pioneer the Obama Presidential Center in the community we love,” the former president said, sitting next to his wife, in a video announcement first shared with The Associated. press.
The former president chose a location in Jackson Park, a historic lakeside landmark, in 2016 to build his presidential library, near where he began his political career, met and married his wife, and lived with their family.
The former first lady grew up on Chicago’s South Side.
But the planning process ran into numerous problems as a result of a legal battle with park protectors and protests from neighborhood activists who feared the planned $500 million center would evict black residents.
Obama told Good Morning America, “The vast majority of the community not only thinks it’s good, but they’re really excited about it.”
The new center will include a library, museum, gardens and a children’s playground.
Obama and supporters of the center say it will attract investment and jobs to the community, but opponents fear it will lead to more gentrification that will eventually displace low-income residents of color.
The Chicago City Council has since approved the neighborhood’s protection and recently completed a four-year federal evaluation process necessitated by its Jackson Park location — which is on the National Register of Historic Places.
It determined that the presidential center had “no significant impact on the human environment.”
But Protect Our Parks, a park conservation nonprofit, filed a lawsuit in April over the legality of the federal assessment.
The group argued that the planned center will “render this masterpiece by Frederick Law Olmsted.” It claimed the plans call for trees to be removed, the Women’s Garden torn down and roads closed.
The new center, estimated to be built at $500 million, will include a library, museum, gardens and a children’s playground. The above image is an artistic rendering of the Obama Presidential Center. It was released in May 2017
Last month, the Supreme Court dismissed an emergency appeal filed by the group seeking to halt construction.
Protect Our Parks released a statement Monday saying that “the homecoming of the former President and First Lady should be a moment of pride for the people of Chicago.
“However, on this visit, we hope they will mourn the devastation of the initial felling of the mature trees and the destruction of the Women’s Garden in Jackson Park, in addition to the long-term environmental and public health hazards that will result.”
“Unfortunately, hosting a series of virtual groundbreaking actions will not change the facts of the case or the long-term adverse effects on the community,” the statement said.
“On the contrary, it would take one decision by Mr. and Mrs. Obama to move the OPC grounds to the adjacent area near Washington Park.”
Officials announced in February that construction would begin this year, starting with the relocation of utility lines, followed by actual construction.
“This project has reminded us why the South Side and the people who live here are so special,” the former first lady said in the video, adding that the effort for her and her husband has reaffirmed the future of the South. Chicago’s side ‘is as bright as anywhere else.’
Environmental and community activists have spoken out in criticism of plans to build Obama’s presidential center in Jackson Park (above), a historic landmark
Obama has described the center as a hub for youth programs and public gatherings that will boost the economy on the south side of the city, parts of which are impoverished, by attracting attention, jobs and visitors.
Foundation officials estimate that the center will help create about 5,000 jobs, both during and after construction.
Obama was criticized for setting a bad example and being out of touch last month because of his lavish 60th birthday party.
Hundreds of guests, including Hollywood stars, attended the party on August 7, flying in from across the country and gathering under tents where revelers danced, ate and drank all night long at his Edgartown estate.
The lavish event was held at a time when Martha’s Vineyard was already experiencing a new wave of business.
Initially, Obama prepared to welcome 500 guests to his mansion. But he then announced that his party would be “scaled back” amid criticism as the strain of the Delta coronavirus spread across the country.
But despite the ex-president’s insistence that he cut everyone off but his family and close friends, 300 to 400 people showed up at his party, from Jay Z and Beyoncé to Chrissy Teigen and John Legend.
Many of the guests flew a private jet and stayed in Edgartown, the center of the island’s COVID resurgence.
During the festivities, many guests were seen without masks or other face coverings.
A “coronavirus coordinator” was hired to ensure the party met the most recent CDC guidelines.
Participants had to take tests and submit their results to gain access to the compound.
Obama has sparked controversy in recent weeks after throwing a 60th birthday party at his huge home on Martha’s Vineyard. Former President and First Lady, Michelle Obama, can be seen above with guests from the August 7 bash
Obama is pictured enjoying brunch under a marquee on August 8 after his huge birthday party the night before
Obama has rejected suggestions that the presidential center would harm the community. It can be seen above on May 3, 2017 next to a map of the planned presidential center in Chicago
“Michelle and I couldn’t be more excited to break ground at the Obama Presidential Center in the community we love,” said the former president, sitting next to his wife