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Obama Shoots Down Community Benefits Agreement For Center, But Pledges Transparency

By Stephen Gossett in News on Sep 15, 2017 2:55PM


Chicagoans who have pushing for a Community Benefits Agreement from the Obama Foundation got a direct response from the organization's illustrious namesake himself on Thursday night at a much-anticipated public meeting with Foundation officials.

Appearing via video, former president Barack Obama told the crowd at the Regency Ballroom at the Hyatt Regency at McCormick Place that a community benefits agreement wasn't the right fit for a nonprofit. He did however pledge that the Obama Presidential Library and Center will benefit local business, residents and labor, that guidelines for that goal would be transparent.

Obama said, via the Tribune:

"The community benefit agreement concept is actually one that can be a really useful tool…if you have a bunch of developers coming in that want to build a high-rise or for-profit enterprise in your neighborhood. But here's the thing: we are a nonprofit and aren't making money. We are just bringing money to the community.

"We are going to be … setting up very clear standards for how we're going to hire, how we're going to make sure that existing small businesses in the community benefit, how we are going to ensure that residents benefit from this process. And all that will be public."

An agreement in an instance such as this would not be inclusive enough, he said. "What particular organizations would end up speaking for everybody in that community?" Obama said, via the Chicago Maroon.

Activists have been pushing for several months for the signed, formal agreement, to ensure from the Foundation that the Center will not displace residents and will create jobs for the immediate community, near Jackson Park.

Some residents began camping out as early as Wednesday night in order to guarantee entry to ask about directly for the agreement.

Thursday's meeting allowed the public to meet face-to-face with some of the top officials involved in the project, including architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, Foundation vice president of civic engagement Michael Strautmantis and landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh.

Obama unveiled designs for the "transformational" campus in May.

The former president announced on Thursday that he will bring the inaugural Obama Foundation Summit to Chicago for two days this fall, plus a new fellowship and "training days" civic-engagement program for young people.