Barack Obama

Chicago City Council Votes in Favor of Obama Presidential Center

The project calls for three buildings, including a museum that's more than 200 feet high, surpassing all other presidential libraries in scale and magnitude

The Chicago City Council voted Wednesday to approve plans to build the Obama Presidential Center on the city's South Side.

The council signed off on construction of the project in Chicago's Jackson Park by a vote of 47 to 1 after public comment and a spirited discussion among aldermen, days after the plan earned approval from the Chicago Plan Commission. 

The Plan Commission moved forward with the center on Thursday amid demonstrations both in favor and against the construction - an outpouring of public comment and debate that once again took place in front of the full Council at City Hall on Wednesday. 

"I can’t understand why we as the city of Chicago does not want the Obama library here," 8th Ward Ald. Michelle Harris questioned, adding, "I’m really passionate about it."

Ald. James Cappleman of the 46th Ward quoted former President Barack Obama himself in discussing the plans, saying, "true democracy involves compromise."

The project calls for three buildings, including a museum that's more than 200 feet high, surpassing all other presidential libraries in scale and magnitude.

The center carries a $500 million price tag though it's unclear where all the funding will come from.

Funding was a concern raised Wednesday by 17th Ward Ald. David Moore, the only "no" vote who said the price tag "disturbs him," particularly when it comes to asking taxpayers to foot the bill over other projects. 

Proponents say the grandiose plans for the library, civic center, museum and more will attract more tourists, with 14th Ward Ald. Ed Burke predicting the center "will also become a dramatic investment for this great city" and that it is "destined to become a destination." 

"It’s important not only to this generation but future generations," Burke continued, urging his fellow Council members to support the plan. 

However, critics of the project argue it will compromise a treasured, historic site.

Area residents have repeatedly asked that plans be put on hold, seeking a city ordinance to guarantee that 30 percent of new and rehabilitated housing in the area be designated for low-income tenants, as well as a freeze on property taxes for longtime residents.

Ald. Pat Dowell of the 3rd Ward raised that issue Wednesday, saying her "one concern" is housing, asking for a promise to "ensure those who live adjacent live out their lives not in fear of this project."

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

The City Zoning Committee has already approved a necessary land transfer to make the project happen.

Wednesday's vote was seen as more of a procedural approval, a rubber-stamped green light - but that doesn't mean it's a done deal.

The project still needs federal approval as Jackson Park is on the national register of historic places.

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