It is not even built yet, and the Obama Presidential Center is a financial nightmare.
In 2018, when the Illinois state budget faced a $1.5 billion deficit, taxpayers were on the hook for $224 million. Even worse, that fact was largely kept secret. For example, there is no mention in the 1245-page budget of how much State money was earmarked for the ex-President’s complex.
Among other things, that original projection called for $174 million in roadwork and another $50 million in improvements to the nearby Garfield Green Line station.
Besides the State budget, funding sources include:
- $25 million via a federal grant
- An additional property tax imposed on the residents of Chicago
Controversy Surrounding the Obama Presidential Center
That property tax add-on is possible because of an amendment to Illinois’ Museum Act. This change gives a huge boost to the fundraising efforts. But it also gave the OPC public parkland, and to some, that is a problem.
The nonprofit Protect Our Parks filed a lawsuit against both the Chicago Park District and the City of Chicago itself. POP claims the transfer of public land to a private entity violates state law. The land in question is part of Jackson Park, and dates back to 1893.
In an interesting turn, POP’s suit also alleges that the use of tax money to build the Center is a form of compelled political speech. As such, it is a violation of the First Amendment.
Higher property taxes concerns many neighborhood residents. This could lead to rent increases that could potentially displace fixed- or low-income residents, many of whom are African-American.
In fact, it was not until January 2020 that ANY Community Benefits Agreement proposal came from OPC officials. Some feel that the proposal does not go far enough.
Alderwoman Jeanette Taylor criticized the sincerity of the CBA proposal.
“I don’t want to kill [the city’s proposal], but if that’s what needs to happen to make sure we’re not displaced, then that’s what’s got to happen. We’re smart enough to come up with our own plans. …Don’t ignore our lived experiences with your ‘I think I know because I read it in a book.’”
As of this writing, the total estimated cost of the Obama Presidential Center is over $500 million. Construction has been on hold since September of 2018.