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A Wary South Side Eyes Obama's Return

The Obama Presidential Center is poised to transform Chicago’s Jackson Park, as well as its surrounding neighborhoods. But residents want a binding community benefits agreement
Former President Barack Obama speaks at a community event at the South Shore Cultural Center in May.
Former President Barack Obama speaks at a community event at the South Shore Cultural Center in May.Nam Y. Huh/AP

Jackson Park is a 500-acre space bordering Lake Michigan on Chicago’s South Side, and it’s a decidedly mostly black space. On any given summer weekend, families picnic on the grass, class reunions hook up sound systems for cookouts, African drummers play on the edge of the beach’s field house, and people host birthday parties with tents. Each July the Chosen Few DJs Picnic and Music Festival draws tens of thousands of house music lovers. There’s a man who sells $1 charcoal prints of black celebrities, singers, and luminaries such as Barack and Michelle Obama. Designed by Frederick Law Olmsted in 1890, today the park is a black Chicago joy.

It’s also poised for a major transformation: In 2021, the Barack Obama Presidential Center is scheduled to open in Jackson Park. The Obama Foundation predicts an economic impact of $339 million during the center’s construction and $177 million annually from the three-building campus. The OPC, according to the Foundation, will create more than 2,000 jobs on the South Side alone once it is open.