Community activists opposed to the planned Barack Obama Presidential Center in Chicago will hold a symposium on March 7 in an attempt to slow the pace of the center's development.
The center, the 44th president's planned presidential library, is slated to be built near the grounds of the University of Chicago, but activists hope to convince the Obama Foundation to adopt a plan more in line with community desires. The March symposium will feature a moderated panel to discuss the project's transparency, the level of community involvement in decision making, and the potential taxpayer costs.
"We hope [to] get the Obama Foundation to slow down and reconsider the many problems with their plans, including its appropriation of historic public parkland and its refusal to put in writing its promises of financial benefits to the communities of the South Side," W.J.T. Mitchell, a professor at the University of Chicago who is opposed to the development, told the Washington Times.
According to the event website, the symposium's conveners have invited Obama Foundation representatives to attend and engage the community in discussion.
In January, controversy ignited around the proposed center after 150 faculty members from the University of Chicago signed onto a letter opposing the planned development for it being "socially regressive" and failing to provide the "promised development or economic benefits" to the neighborhood surrounding the proposed 21-acre site. The faculty members specifically cited opposition to the Obama Foundation's proposal to appropriate historic land composing a park adjoining the university, Jackson Park, for the grounds of the center. The proposal would require the University of Chicago's endorsement.
The park, currently open for public use, was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted in 1871 and has been public domain since.
The faculty members also drew umbrage at the plan's proposal to create a private center, rather than one administered by the National Archives, which would result in the Obama Foundation having sole responsibility for management of the space and access. Should the center be administered privately, it would primarily be limited to housing an electronic database of Obama administration documents rather than housing original manuscripts.
The Obama Foundation has responded to the criticism by noting that "the Obama Presidential Center will be an open, inclusive campus that integrates directly into Jackson Park." The foundation said Barack and Michelle Obama want the center to serve as an "economic engine for Chicago and the South Side."
Current designs for the center would cost taxpayers upwards of $100 million in renovations to the surrounding area.