WOODLAWN – Two city councilors representing neighborhoods near the proposed Obama Presidential Center decided not to participate in the prep work near the site on Wednesday’s arrival.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Governor JB Pritzker and representatives of the city and the Obama Foundation announced the start of infrastructure work in the city on Wednesday in preparation for the planned groundbreaking of the Obama Center in a few months.

Outside the Museum of Science and Industry, Lightfoot officially launched the Woodlawn Revolving Loan Fund, a key part of the Woodlawn Affordable Housing Ordinance passed last fall. The city will initially invest $ 1.52 million in the fund to refurbish vacant buildings, followed by an annual commitment of $ 100,000.

It also pledged the city to invest $ 100 million in the “West Gateway to the Obama Center” on 63rd Street and Cottage Grove, including a renovation of Cottage Grove Green Line Station, a new office building and a new health center.

Local alds. Leslie Hairston (5th) and Jeanette Taylor (20th) decided not to attend the press conference, as the Hyde Park Herald first reported. Lightfoot publicly announced the meeting 90 minutes in advance.

“This was about cleaning the Parkviertel a bit and [the Chicago Department of Transportation] move some rods, ”Taylor told Block Club. “Why did we need a press conference for that?”

Taylor said she will hold a meeting with community residents on April 21, attended by representatives from the Obama Foundation and the Lakeside Alliance Presidential Center construction team. They will discuss how we can employ people in our community for the construction and permanent jobs that the Obama Center will create.

Neighbors continued to urge the city to secure Woodlawn employment benefits after securing some of the most “significant” housing protection measures in recent years with last fall’s Housing Ordinance.

But Wednesday conference officials didn’t talk about it, then why am I there? Said Taylor.

Lightfoot’s office needs to enable better communication between community residents, city councils and city departments, she said.

“We have to work together,” said Taylor. “The city doesn’t have to work in silos on a project where the community was divided [over] for so long. Now that the community is ready to work together, the mayor’s office must go on board. “

When asked how the mayor can ensure that prep work for the Obama Center is completed fairly, Hairston said, “How about a talk with the city council?”

Ahead of Wednesday’s conference, Hairston asked Deputy Mayor Samir Mayekar, “who should be hired by the community,” to complete the infrastructure work, she said.

Hairston’s questions “were not fully answered” despite having “had a very good conversation” with Lightfoot Tuesday night on the subject, she said.

“We look forward to the real [Obama Center] groundbreaking and will continue to work with residents of the community, ”said Hairston. “We’d like to encourage the city to take a different approach to the workforce – one closer to that of the Obama Foundation – to ensure that jobs stay in our neighborhood.”

The Obama Foundation has pledged to reserve 35 percent of construction jobs for South and West Siders and to award half of construction contracts to minority, women and other “miscellaneous companies”.

“I wouldn’t read too much into it [the aldermen] be here or not be here, “said Lightfoot on Wednesday. “… Basically, they want what we all want – to make sure this community benefits from the work that has been done here, and we are committed to them.”

Construction-related jobs, infrastructure improvements, and other urban investments around the Obama Center will bring “transformative changes” to the black and brown communities near Jackson Park, Lightfoot said.

“There’s really never been a better time to invest in our south side,” said Lightfoot. “… We urge others to follow our example and bet on the south side.”

The Obama Foundation plans to begin construction on the center in the second half of 2021. When former President Barack Obama announced in 2016 that he intended to build his Presidential Center in Jackson Park, it should open this year.

The city and foundation’s plans for the Obama Center have sparked complex debates among residents of the neighborhoods near Jackson Park about displacement, land use, race, historic preservation, and more.

A series of controversial state reviews ended in February when city officials announced the National Park Service and the Federal Highway Administration determined that proposed road changes in and around Jackson Park would not have a significant impact on the environment.

Years of legal challenge to the construction of the Obama Center in Jackson Park continue. The charitable organization Protect Our Parks filed a second lawsuit on Wednesday. The lawsuit alleges that the federal inspections were not properly conducted because the possibility of building the center elsewhere was not considered.

The group petitioned the Supreme Court last month on their first lawsuit after a US Circuit Court panel ruled the case last summer.

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