Recent news reports feature commentary from South Side residents expressing concern about whether the Obama Presidential Center will positively impact our local economy and surrounding communities.
While we appreciate the interest some residents are now showing toward economic development in our community, our organizations have worked for decades to fight for economic development in Woodlawn, Washington Park, South Shore, and neighborhoods across Chicago’s South Side. It is incredibly challenging and rewarding work; and we are tremendously proud of everything we have accomplished.
Acting on the front lines of economic development on the South Side, we can tell you that the reality is that despite progress, we still see businesses close and developers favor North Side neighborhoods so as not to make a risky investment. We see the trend of underinvestment in our communities continue.
Black and brown people on the South Side deserve every advantage found in other Chicago neighborhoods. That is why we are thrilled that the Obamas are bringing this a once-in-a- lifetime economic opportunity to the South Side. It will dramatically lift up our community with the unprecedented investment we deserve.
Without it, headlines of violence and historical disinvestment will continue to dictate the perception of our community.
Instead, people from all over the world – an estimated 760,000 ever year – will soon travel to the South Side, patronize our restaurants and businesses, and experience all our vibrant neighborhoods have to offer.
But economic investment doesn’t mean just spending money in our community; it means putting people to work. It means an estimated 5,000 construction jobs and 2,500 permanent jobs as a result of the OPC. Real jobs. Good jobs that will support South Side families.
The Obama Foundation is committing to having 50 percent minority subcontractors involved with the construction of the OPC – a commitment that we and other members of the community will surely hold them to. And the Foundation is already making good on their word, hiring Lakeside Alliance – a group of majority minority contractors – and creating a new model for how the construction industry can ensure diverse participation on even the largest projects in our city.
South Siders want what we all want – nice amenities to enjoy and space to relax with friends. They want to support small business owners and encourage stable homeownership. They want safe streets and a brighter future for their children.
Yes, the OPC will deliver a tremendous investment in our community, however we cannot call on the OPC to lead the way on all economic development on the South Side. City policy makers, developers, housing experts, community members, and elected officials must work together behind a single plan to take advantage of this economic opportunity that will bring billions of dollars to Chicago and the South Side.
President and Mrs. Obama love this community. With the OPC, they are investing in the future of our country by training the next generation of civic leaders, and investing in the future of the South Side with an economic opportunity that we previously could have only dreamed of.
Shari Runner – President and CEO, Chicago Urban League
Melody Spann Cooper – Chairman, Midway Broadcasting Corporation