City Council Approves $175 Million In Spending on Obama Presidential Center

In a 47-to-1 vote, the Council approved measures including the closure of Cornell Drive and Marquette Road and the widening of Lake Shore Drive and Stony Island Avenue.

By Elaine Chen, Deputy Editor-in-Chief

The Chicago City Council approved measures on Wednesday allowing $175 million of city money to fund projects related to the construction of the Obama Presidential Center.

The Obama Foundation took the next step toward building the center this week with the 47-to-1 vote, which came shortly after the city’s Zoning Committee voted in favor of the center on Tuesday and after the Chicago Plan Commission voted in favor of the center last Thursday.

The center, which will be located in Jackson Park, still faces a federal review to determine whether the Foundation is minimizing harmful effects to the surrounding parkland, as Jackson Park is included on the National Register of Historic Places.

The center also faces a federal lawsuit which was filed by a group of public park activists last Monday.

The approved measures include improvements for the land around the center, including the closure of Cornell Drive and Marquette Road and the widening of Lake Shore Drive and Stony Island Avenue. The city has not yet secured these funds.

The Council vote also approved the transfer of 19.3 acres from the city to the Chicago Park District. The Obama Foundation will lease the land from the Park District for a token one dollar.

17th Ward Alderman David Moore—the single alderman who voted against the measures—argued that it is not clear where the city would receive the $175 million funding.

He said that it would be a vote against his constituents to vote to spend money on the center, while streets of Englewood within his ward are still abound with potholes and easily flood.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said that he is relying on the state to help provide the $175 million, noting that the state has spent north of $200 million on the Lincoln Library in Springfield.

“The state has a role to play in helping us make this investment on the South Side of Chicago in ways that they have done for the Lincoln Library,” Emanuel said.

While Moore was speaking, activists of the Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) Coalition pounded on the protective window of the room where the alderman deliberated, chanting “No CBA, no vote.”

The CBA Coalition has been demanding that the city pass an ordinance that would ensure employment, affordable housing, and other opportunities to prevent the displacement of local residents around the center.