With the Obama presidential library set to come to either Jackson or Washington parks in Chicago, a South Side group is seeking help in crafting a proposed community benefits agreement (CBA) to ensure local residents and businesses are not displaced by the possible gentrification that could come with the project.
The Bronzeville Regional Collective, comprised of South Side organizations and community development advocates, has created a seven-point CBA blueprint for the Obama library development.
"We don't want to see the South Side become what Lincoln Park was in the '60s and '70s," said Bronzeville Regional Collective member Anton Seals Jr., who is also on the South Shore Planning and Preservation Coalition's board.
"We don't want that high level of displacement," he added. "We want to ensure that the community, the working class, the (most) vulnerable among us, the middle class are all able to have a space in the community they love. And that means that it will become even a safer place once there's a real economic engine there to help support that."
Seals spoke at a Tuesday press conference, during which Bronzeville Regional Collective leaders announced the launch of their CBA outreach campaign.
According to a statement from the group about the campaign, Bronzeville Regional Collective leaders are making a "broad invitation to community organizations of the Bronzeville region to continue and to enhance the design of a unified development plan featuring Southeast Side community economic development benefits."
The group is advocating for a CBA "built on decades of existing plans, in partnership with elected officials, the city of Chicago, the University of Chicago, and the First Family in the spirit of inclusion, transparency, and accountability embraced by the Barack Obama Foundation, and in concert with the development of the Obama presidential center."
The Bronzeville Regional Collective is planning to host a series of public meetings and workshops around its proposal, with the first event scheduled for next month.
Among other items, the organization is pushing for a CBA with "legal protections against displacement for residents," support for the creation of black-owned local businesses, help for local homeowners and a comprehensive feasibility study for a South Side adult trauma center.
Here's the collective's full seven-point vision for a CBA:
Designating the Obama Presidential Library & Foundation within the Black Metropolis National Heritage Area where it will catalyze and circulate new income.
Supporting and creating local businesses, with a priority on increasing the rate at which black-owned businesses are created and sustained.
Increasing development of rental and owned housing affordable to middle-income families, and establishing legal protections against displacement for residents.
Monitoring enterprise and construction hires, and especially trade apprentice sponsorships to ensure breakthrough metrics.
Creating a Community Impact Fund which makes significant capital available for senior homeowners, neighbor-investors, small business start-ups, and community-based initiatives.
Completing a comprehensive feasibility study for a south side Level 1 or 2 Trauma Center.
And ensuring the voice and authority of Bronzeville Regional communities to determine the policies, practices, and payments designed for their benefit as their communities are redeveloped.
The Obama Foundation officially declared the University of Chicago the winner of the bid for the Obama library last month. Either Washington or Jackson parks on the South Side will house the presidential center. A decision on which park will feature the attraction is expected to come in the next six to nine months, the foundation said in May.
"The Obama presidential center is something, obviously, that we were eager to bring on home to sweet home Chicago," said Bronzeville Regional Collective member Naomi Davis with Blacks in Green. "The idea of continuing the work of community building, to give a new start to the work of community wealth building, is the consecrated commitment of the Bronzeville Regional Collective.
"We see the Obama presidential center restoring suffering South Side communities in innovative ways," she added. "We see ourselves facilitating a robust dialogue, a clear process, and, yes, a written community benefits agreement with optimum input from communities primarily impacted by the development."
The collective is one among a few South Side organizations interested in getting a signed benefits agreement for communities that will be impacted by the Obama library project.
The Bronzeville Regional Collective hopes to have a more detailed CBA proposal finished soon after the Obama library site is selected.
After the site is determined, "We should have our community benefit outline from a framework to something that a developer in this next step can really review and provide feedback on," said Bronzeville Regional Collective member Paula Robinson, a managing partner with the Bronzeville Community Development Partnership.
Whether such an agreement would be signed is another question.
Martin Nesbitt, chair of the Barack Obama Foundation, was asked about community benefits by reporters at last month's library announcement and press conference.
"This whole initiative is a community benefit," Nesbitt said in response. "That's what this is about. That's what everybody up here fought for from the very beginning was let's bring this presidential center to the community ... From head to toe, from fingertip to fingertip, this whole effort is about the South Side community and about the city of Chicago.
"It's inextricably linked," he continued. "There's no way to slice it and dice it and discern one element from the other. This whole thing is about the community."
For its part, the university has not stated whether it would consider a community benefits agreement for the Obama library project. However, it did say last month that, "The University of Chicago will continue to work with community members, the Barack Obama Foundation and the city of Chicago to ensure that the Obama Presidential Center benefits our community and the city as a whole."
The Bronzeville Regional Collective's first CBA community meeting is scheduled for July 23 from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Legends South Savory Square, 4448 S. State St.