Obama faces backlash over $100 million presidential center plans

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More than 150 faculty members from the University of Chicago have criticized the nearby construction of the Obama Presidential Center as “socially regressive.”

The Washington Free Beacon reported that an open letter was sent by the faculty members on Monday in which they joined multiple community organizations in voicing concerns regarding the current blueprint for the center.

As planned, Obama’s center would cost local taxpayers an estimated $100 million, and utilize large areas of historic public park for private development.

“The Obama Center as currently planned will not provide the promised development or economic benefits to the neighborhoods,” wrote the faculty members.

Instead of representing a “bold vision for urban living in the future, it will soon become an object-lesson in the mistakes of the past,” the letter read.

A particular point of contention is the proposed seizure of 21 acres of Jackson Park, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The faculty members contended that a park designed as a hallmark of “democratic urban” living should not be relegated to private use.

The faculty members also criticized the center for having “abandoned its original plans to be a Presidential Library,” with the site now intending to house only an electronic database of President Barack Obama’s records or hard-copy manuscripts. The center would also have “no official connection to the National Archives.”

Faculty members also argued that the center as currently planned would be an “intrusion” on the daily lives of Chicago residents, negatively impacting leisure and transportation for little return.

The 165 faculty members who have signed the letter to date represent diverse disciplines such as urban planning, medicine, music, literature, and philosophy. Despite their criticism of the proposed center, the letter indicated their theoretical support of the project, contingent upon “significant revision.”

Plans for an overground parking garage associated with the center have been scrapped due to separate complaints. The garage initially proposed would have been built on the site of another historic urban park, but has now been redesigned as an underground space.

The center, described by Obama described as a “campus … for training young people in leadership,” is scheduled to be completed in 2021.

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