Chicago profs blast 'socially regressive' Obama Center plan

More than 150 University of Chicago professors and lecturers are protesting a “socially regressive” plan to build an “Obama Center” next to the school’s campus.

In a letter signed by scores of faculty members, the professors argue that while they broadly “support the idea of establishing the Obama Center in our neighborhood,” they also share many concerns expressed by local community groups about the existing proposal.

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“First, there are concerns that the Obama Center as currently planned will not provide the promised development or economic benefits to the neighborhood,” the letter explains. “Because the current plans place the Center next to the Museum of Science and Industry and across the street from the University of Chicago campus, there is no available adjacent land in which to start a new business, set up a new café or restaurant, [or] bring another cultural center to the neighborhood.”

Another concern stems from the plan to hand over large portions of historic public parks to the Obama Foundation for use in building the venue.

“At a time of increasing complexity and pressure in urban life, Chicago should be dedicated to preserving our public parks as open areas for relaxation and play for all its citizens,” the letter states, criticizing the slated intrusion into the Midway Plaisance and Jackson parks.

The professors are also highly critical of the now-abandoned plan to construct an above-ground parking garage that was intended to utilize parts of Midway Plaisance, protesting that although “public lands are being given away, all the profits from this parking lot will go to the Obama Foundation.

“None of the funds will go back to the City to improve train lines and public transportation infrastructure,” the faculty members add. “Overall, this is a socially regressive plan.”

The foundation, however, announced Monday that it has opted to drop the plans for an above-ground garage in favor of an underground parking lot, according to the Associated Press.

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The letter closes with a blistering criticism of the project’s estimated cost, which the professors argue will easily exceed $100 million and fall solely on the shoulders of the taxpayer.

“We are concerned that rather than becoming a bold vision for urban living in the future it will soon become an object-lesson in the mistakes of the past,” the letter concludes. “We urge the Obama Foundation to explore alternative sites on the South Side that could be developed with more economic benefits, better public transportation, and less cost to taxpayers.”

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