THREATENED: Obama Presidential Center Lawsuit Reveals New Information and Groundbreaking is Postponed to 2019. (Chicago 7 2017 & 2018)

Fencing around Proposed Obama Presidential Site in Jackson Park, Photo Credit: Marc Monaghan / Hyde Park Herald
Obama Center City Hall Protest, Photo Credit: James Foster / Chicago Sun-Times

Jackson Park has been a Preservation Chicago 7 Most Endangered in 2017 and again in 2018. We are advocating for the protection of this important historic landscape designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux with contributions by Alfred Caldwell. Preservation Chicago does not oppose the Obama Presidential Center, but strongly prefers the 20-acre private facility to be constructed in a location other than historic Jackson Park.

Despite the federal court legal challenge and the Obama Foundation announcement that groundbreaking will be delayed until 2019, the Chicago Park District has set-up chain link fencing around the Jackson Park baseball field located across from Hyde Park Academy, as reported by Aaron Gettinger in the Hyde Park Herald on August 1, 2018.

Another important development was the filing of a federal lawsuit by a better government and parks advocacy group to block the Obama Presidential Center. On May 14, 2018, the nonprofit Protect Our Parks, Inc. filed a federal lawsuit in U.S. District Court. In the complaint, they accuse the organizers for the Obama Presidential Center of pulling an “institutional bait and switch,” by shifting away from an “official” presidential library overseen by the U.S. federal government.

“Although that original purpose of an official Presidential Library no longer exists,” reads the complaint, “the defendants continue to forge ahead to advance a totally different private nongovernmental project on public parkland.”

Furthermore, the suit claims that the Chicago Park District and the City of Chicago don’t have the authority to transfer public parkland, that public land is “prohibited by law” from being turned over to a private entity for private use, and that such a deal violates Chicago Park District code.

Additionally, the complaint argues that the City of Chicago and Chicago Park District’s intention to lease the land in perpetuity for a nominal amount is a violation of state law and represents “a short con shell game, a corrupt scheme to deceive and seemingly legitimize an illegal land grab.”

As reported in the Chicago Sun-times, the arguments presented for the proposed Obama Presidential Center didn’t satisfy Ward Miller; executive director of Preservation Chicago who argued that it does not belong in “historic Jackson Park, known the world over” for its Frederick Law Olmsted landscape design that “so beautifully connects” Jackson Park to the Midway Plaisance and Washington Park.

“Make no bones about it. The proposed plans…will backhoe and destroy almost 20 acres of this legacy park land,” Miller said, warning of the dangerous precedent.

“This green, leafy site will now be compromised…with three very large buildings, all on a concrete plaza, and a tall museum building which is over 200 feet tall. … No other presidential library is of this scale and magnitude.”

Miller urged Barack and Michelle Obama to consider “another nearby site in the heart of the community” rather than “sort of an extension of the University of Chicago into Jackson Park.” (Speilman, Chicago Sun-Times, 5/22/18)

Additional Reading
A challenge to the Obama Center reveals things we didn’t know, Lynne Marek, Crain’s Chicago Business, 7/20/18

The Obama Center Leaves Chicago Communities In Its Shadow: The Obama Foundation is back selling hope and change to big-name donors, but this time, Chicago’s South Side residents aren’t all buying it. LeAlan M. Jones, The Nation, 7/10/18

Federal lawsuit accuses Obama center organizers of pulling an ‘institutional bait and switch’, Tony Briscoe, Chicago Tribune, 5/15/18

Fence set up around OPC site, Aaron Gettinger, Hyde Park Herald, 7/30/18

Column: Artifacts from 1893 World’s Fair found beneath Obama center site, but report signals construction won’t be blocked, Blair Kamin, Chicago Tribune, 3/25/18

Greener Pastures: What the history of Jackson Park tells us about its uncertain future, Michael Wasney, South Side Weekly, 5/30/17

A virtual tour of the White City, High-tech simulation offers a fresh look at fair, William Mullen, Chicago Tribune, February 15 2008


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