Watch CBS News

Unanimous Approval For $500M Obama Center

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The heaviest lifting is done with the approval granted for the Obama Presidential Center on public land in Chicago.

CBS 2 political reporter Derrick Blakley reports the vote was unanimous.

Not a single dissenting vote from the entire Chicago Plan Commission, a vote that came after seven hours of testimony, debate, public comment and protest.

But in the end, the former President Obama and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel got the result they wanted.

The most dramatic support for the Obama Center came from the former president himself, in a videotaped message, extolling the benefits of the center.

"You can imagine I've been pretty hands-on in the process," said Obama. "It will be a place open to everybody."

But hundreds descended on city hall, protesting outside. with some disrupting the meeting inside as complaints flowed about altering Jackson Park.

With still others claiming, the fix is in.

"President Obama should be ashamed of himself for using clout and ties to Rahm (Emanuel) to push this through," said Chicago resident Robin Kaufman.

But supportive aldermen focused on the estimated three billion dollars in economic impact, the predicted 700,000 annual visitors and the possibility of a South Side economic renaissance.

"I'm really excited about the South Side getting a 700 million dollar investment in this community," said 8th Ward Alderman Michelle Harris.

And 5th Ward Alderman Leslie Hairston took at swipe at community opponents.

"Some people just don't know when they've got a win," said Hairston, who's ward is where the Obama Center is scheduled to be built.

The project advances to the zoning committee of the city council and then if approved there, it'll move on to the full council. It is expected to be approved by both of those units of government.


Dear friends of the parks,

To no one's surprise, today the Chicago Plan Commission unanimously approved the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park.

So the big news really is the rallies and protests that happened today and how they were received.  It was sad to witness community organizers being shamed at a hearing for the presidential center of our former community organizer president whose history in that work was often invoked with praise.

In light of the rhetoric that was promoted by some elected officials and other speakers at today's meeting, I offered this impromptu oral testimony to supplement the written testimony which we had submitted for the written record.

Lauren Moltz articulated some of that written testimony in her speech as well, including our thanks for the progress that has been made and will continue to be made on a "park positive" commitment.

"As one who has come up through volunteer and professional affordable housing activism, community development, and community organizing in Humboldt Park myself, I want to honor ALL of the community organizers and advocates who have gathered here today and promoted public participation throughout this process, regardless of which of the many sides of the issues these people and organizations represent. That is how we sharpen one another and, in fact, how public policy is made--or should be made--every day.

That said, it seems inappropriate to both honor President Obama's history as an organizer AND denigrate those who are organizing to make sure that various points of view are given adequate voice. It seems that the Obama Presidential Center is supposed to promote civic engagement. I would imagine that Mr. Obama would NOT require that all of the new OPC Fellows have the same opinions about everything.

Let's honor President Obama's legacy by being true to the ideals that most of us believe he represents."

Much of the criticism seemed to be aimed at the Obama Library CBA Coalition, and we are proud that a few of our staff participated with them at the rally. And many thanks to the many of you who were there to rally and/or testify on any of many sides of this issue and also took some of the brunt!  We certainly heard many of you mention in your comments themes that are of concern to Friends of the Parks.  And we recognize that others of you expressed your full support of the OPC, even in a park.  Certainly, we all look forward to investment in Jackson Park and the South Side.

And the thing is, we actually believe in parks as democracy and understand that public policy issues are not binary-a simple yes or no, or black or white.  And we don't see it as appropriate to bash or misrepresent people who see different shades of grey.  We're glad to see so many Chicagoans inspired to engage in dialogues about our parks.

Yours in partnership,

Juanita Irizarry

Executive Director

P.S.  The process is not over as City Council approval and Section 106/NEPA reviews are still ahead of us.  So, let's keep it constructive and keep the conversations going at our 2nd Annual "Parks as Democracy?" Luncheon and Conference!  This year's theme is so on point:  "In Black and White: A Continuing Conversation about Parks as Democratic Spaces"

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.