Barack Obama

Chicago Plan Commission Votes to Approve Obama Presidential Center Plans

The Chicago Plan Commission approved plans Thursday to redevelop the city's Jackson Park for construction of the Obama Presidential Center.

Drawing protesters and supporters, the vote is the first of many hurdles that needed to be cleared in order for construction on the presidential center to begin.

"We are heartened by the outpouring of enthusiasm and support for the OPC and thank everyone who came today to lend their voice to this important process," Obama Foundation CEO David Simas said. "We also thank the Plan Commission for their time and attention. We are pleased with the vote and look forward to continuing to work with our neighbors, the City Council, and the Chicago community more broadly to make the vision and mission of the OPC into reality."

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel applauded the decision, saying that President Obama took his first steps in Chicago to "truly bend the arc of history."  

"Today, Chicago took a giant step forward towards creating the Obama Presidential Center, a living testament to the Obama legacy," he said. 

Friends of the Parks expressed its disappointment in the Plan Commission's vote. 

"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," the statement read in part. 

Protesters appeared at the meeting on Thursday, asking the Plan Commission to put the vote on hold, seeking a city ordinance to guarantee that 30 percent of new and rehabilitated housing in the area be designated for low-income taxes, as well as a freeze on property taxes for longtime residents.

"I love where I live at and I don’t want to be displaced. I don’t want to go to no suburban area," South Side resident Michele Williams said.

Neighbors also want a promise that local workers would be hired for the new presidential center.

Meanwhile, the center's supporters rallied to urge the commission to pass the plan over its first of many hurdles.

"There’s a right to be concerned every time — I understand the skepticism but in the name of progress we have to find a way to move forward," said Ghien Forman.

The Obama Foundation's Vice President for Civic Engagement Michael Strautmanis said that the foundation is in support of people voicing their opinions on the center.

"This means people want to be involved and are a part of the process," Strautmanis said. "That's actually the mission of the Obama Foundation, it's what this thing is all about. We're for all this actually."

"This is a very exciting moment, I think, in the history of the city," he added.

Former President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama were in Chicago Wednesday meeting with 20 Obama Foundation Fellows ahead of the vote at City Hall.

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