Local businesses feel effects of Obama Center infrastructure work

The $174M infrastructure project will ease access to the Obama Presidential Center and is part of the state’s six-year, $21B plan to improve roads and bridges

Chicago /
Feb.February 23, 2022 01:29 PM
A rendering of the Obama Center (Obama, iStock)

A rendering of the Obama Center (Obama, iStock)

A $174 million infrastructure project that will ease access to the Obama Presidential Center is underway, disrupting access to some local businesses by a project whose critics worry it will end up raising property values and driving out long-time residents.

Part of the state’s $21 billion improvement plan for roads and bridges, the Jackson Park Mobility Project is set to improve and widen streets around the OPC to ease congestion and access once opened. The road improvements and the center are both set to be completed in 2025.

Four businesses are along the construction route and may be affected by the work: a McDonald’s restaurant, BP gas station, Chase Bank branch and the Museum of Science & Industry, according to the Chicago Business Journal.

Michael Claffey, a spokesman for the Chicago Department of Transportation, told the CBJ that he doesn’t expect businesses to be impacted by the work, something that neighbors disagree with.

“The city is closing off Cornell Drive to create park space, but that street is a shortcut to get to the Museum of Science & Industry, so I don’t know how anyone can think businesses won’t be affected by this project,” said Shirley Stevenson, 76, who lives at the newly built Montclare Senior Residences of Calumet Heights on Stony Island Avenue. “I’m already thinking how I will get there since this project involves a permanent street closure.”

According to the Chicago Department of Transportation’s website, the plan will convert certain roads around the OPC to parkland, creating an additional five acres of green space.

The $830 million Obama Presidential Center and Library has long been billed as a transformational project for the South Side, specifically the South Shore neighborhood and the area around Jackson Park. Approved by the city in 2018, the OPC then had to undergo a three-year federal review. Construction began in September 2021.

The OPC will sit within the park along Stony Island Avenue, just south of the Museum of Science and Industry.

Designed by architects Todd Williams and Billie Tsien, the OPC includes a museum, a winter garden, community plaza, a Chicago Public Library branch, a women’s garden, a park and community activity center and a children’s play area.

The project does have some in the neighboring communities worried about gentrification and rising housing prices in the area. Obama Community Benefits Agreement Coalition members feared the new presidential center could bring investments and higher home prices and rents that could drive out longtime residents.

The Woodlawn Housing Preservation ordinance, which was adopted in September 2020, sets $4.5 million aside for different housing programs in the neighborhood surrounding the soon-to-be presidential center. It also established an affordability requirement for 30 percent of the new housing units that will be built on more than 50 vacant lots owned by the city.

[Chicago Business Journal] — Miranda Davis





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