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Protesters Demand Benefits Agreement As Plan Commission Set To Vote On Obama Center

CHICAGO (CBS) -- With protesters demanding a community benefits agreement as part of the plan to build the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park, leaders of the Obama Foundation made their official presentation for the complex to the Chicago Plan Commission on Thursday.

Members of the Plan Commission met in City Council chambers at City Hall at 10 a.m. to hear the Obama Foundation's pitch for the center.

During the hearing, the foundation showed off a few new renderings of the center, including its plaza, promenade, and a nighttime view of the tower.

Obama Center Women's Garden
Rendering of the Women's Garden at the Obama Presidential Center. (Credit: Obama Foundation)
Obama Center Plaza
Rendering of the main plaza outside the Obama Presidential Center. (Credit: Obama Foundation)
Obama Center Night Aerials
Rendering of a nighttime view of the Obama Presidential Center. (Credit: Obama Foundation)
Obama Center Promenade
Rendering of the promenade outside the Obama Presidential Center. (Credit: Obama Foundation)

Long before the hearing began, there was plenty of shouting outside City Hall, as supporters rallied and protesters demanded a community benefits agreement that would outline commitments from the foundation to protect the neighborhoods around the center.

"We're asking the Plan Commission to hold off on the voting on the proposals in front of them today until there's a community benefits agreement in place," said Jawanza Malone, a representative of the Obama Library Community Benefits Coalition.

One protester was kicked out of the council chamber after disrupting the meeting by shouting demands for such an agreement before the Obama Presidential Center is approved by the Plan Commission or the Chicago City Council.

Malone said a community benefits agreement would be binding, forcing the Obama Foundation to put protections in place as part of the project.

"There needs to be 30 percent affordable housing for new construction and rehab, there needs to be independent monitoring over the hiring that's taking place, and there needs to be a property tax freeze," he said.

So far, the Obama Foundation has resisted calls for a formal community benefits agreement, instead stating they are confident the complex will create more jobs on the South Side, and spur other business and growth opportunities in the area.

Obama Foundation chief engagement officer Michael Strautmanis said the foundation wants the Plan Commission to vote without delay.

"I am interested in having the Chicago Plan Commission approve the Obama Presidential Center. Whether there's a community benefits agreement or not, we have to make progress on this," he said.

Strautmanis said Obama decided to locate his presidential library and museum on the South Side because he wants the community where he launched his political career to benefit from the $500 million center.

"The entire purpose of it is to give back to the community that gave them so much. He has always looked out for them, and he will continue to do so," he said.

Ghian Foreman, who lives near the library site, said he believes it will do for the South Side what a once controversial park did for downtown.

"I got to walk in Millennium Park yesterday, and I saw people all walks of life, and I think that this is what this will be," he said.

If the Plan Commission approves the Obama Presidential Center plans, the City Council would then have to approve the project as well.

If the center gets the green light, the Foundation hopes to break ground before the end of the year.

The site also is under federal review, because Jackson Park is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the plan would require closing major streets. That review could take months to complete.

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