The Obama Presidential Center: A Symposium at The University of Chicago

Kent Hall Auditorium | March 7, 2018 |  6-8 PM


The Obama Presidential Center’s (OPC) impact on Chicago’s South Side will be the focus of a public symposium  at the University of Chicago.  National and local experts will address specific topics including the ceding of public parkland for the OPC; the implication of OPC-related roadwork to Chicago taxpayers; calls for a Community Benefits Agreement, and other issues. The symposium is a follow-up to a January 4, 2018 letter signed by 200 members of the University of Chicago faculty expressing strong support for establishing the Obama Presidential Library on the South Side, while raising concerns about the specifics.  

The event is free and open to the public, but registration is required.

March 7 program will feature a moderated panel discussion and observations by designated respondents, followed by a question and answer session with members of the public. Invitees include leading figures in architecture, landscape architecture, urban planning and community benefits.  

The event is expected to address numerous topics including:

  • Issues of transparency and community involvement in decision making about the OPC and its impact on the South Side;

  • Calls for making the University’s winning bid, which remains secret, to be made public;

  • Calls for a Community Benefits Agreement and concerns about gentrification;

  • Calls for using University and/or city-owned vacant land for the OPC instead of historic public parkland;

  • Calls for comprehensive master planning for Jackson Park and the South Park System;

  • The relationship of a proposed PGA-level golf course in Jackson Park to the OPC.

  • Potential costs to taxpayers and South Side commuters of  PGA golf course and OPC-related proposed road closures and re-alignment

The symposium is sponsored by UChicago Urban, the Mellon Sawyer Seminar in Urban Art/Urban Form, the Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation, the Chicago Center for Contemporary Theory (3CT), Preservation Chicago, and the scholarly journal Critical Inquiry.

 The Obama Foundation has been invited to send a representative to participate in the discussion. 


“In the best University of Chicago tradition, this gathering is meant to be an educational event involving a multidisciplinary gathering of local and national experts,” said W. J. T. Mitchell, Gaylord Donnelley Distinguished Service Professor English and Art History, and co-author of the letter from UChicago faculty. “It will also be a tribute to the historic legacy of our colleague and neighbor, President Obama.”

Online Resources: 

Friends of the Park: library-2/

Jackson Park Watch:

South Shore Nature Sanctuary:



On May 1, 2015, the Chicago Tribune first reported the University of Chicago won the right to host what was then the Obama Presidential Library, which would be administered by the National Archives, a federal entity.  Unlike proposals from competing universities that called for building the library on their own respective land holdings, the University of Chicago’s bid was predicated on appropriating historic public parkland.  On July 27, 2016 it was reported that Jackson Park had been chosen for the site.  Designed in 1871 by the great American landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr., Jackson Park is listed in the National Register of Historic Places (Olmsted also created the 1892 plan for the World’s Columbian Exposition in Jackson Park and the 1895 plan to heal Jackson Park after the Exposition).  Officials from the University and the City stated that the presidential facility would bring jobs and economic development to the South Side, claims that helped win support from the local community and override concerns about the takeover of public parkland.  On May 11, 2017 it was announced that the presidential facility would be a private enterprise – the Obama Presidential Center – rather than a National Archives-administered library.  As the plans for the OPC were unveiled, it turned out that they would require the closing of Cornell Drive, a six lane commuter route that links the South Side to downtown Chicago, and that this would require expensive alterations to nearby roadways to be paid by the city.  Estimates of these costs to taxpayers have not been made public.  On September 14, 2017, the former president revealed that the OPC would not sign a Community Benefits Agreement, a written legal agreement that would codify the promises made by the University of Chicago and the Obama Foundation.