UPDATE: Section 106 Report Confirms OPC would have “Adverse Effect” on Jackson Park (Chicago 7 2017, 2018, & 2019)

Jackson Park. Photo Credit: Eric Allix Rogers

A Chicago 7 Most Endangered in 2017, 2018 and again in 2019, Preservation Chicago has consistently advocated for the protection of Jackson Park, a world-class historic landscape designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux with contributions by Alfred Caldwell, May McAdams and others.

Preservation Chicago does NOT oppose the Obama Presidential Center (OPC) being built in Chicago, but for many important and valid reasons strongly prefers the private facility be constructed in a location other than historic Jackson Park. Many outstanding alternate locations have been identified, including the approximately 10 acres of mostly vacant land controlled by the University of Chicago and the City of Chicago in the Washington Park neighborhood located across the street from Washington Park on Garfield Boulevard and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.

Section 106
“Plans to build the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park will have an “adverse impact” on the park, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, according to a federal review released Monday, July 29, 2019.

“The proposed center would include a four-building campus, underground parking facility, plaza, play areas, pedestrian and bicycle paths and landscaped open space. But the federal review under the National Historic Preservation Act found the Obama Presidential Center would diminish “the historic property’s overall integrity by altering historic, internal spatial divisions that were designed as a single entity” by famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead to host the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition.

“The review, formally known as a Section 106 Assessment of Effects under the National Historic Preservation Act, studied the center’s potential impact on three dozen historic properties, and found it would have “an adverse effect” on the Jackson Park Historic Landscape District and Midway Plaisance.

“‘The combined changes diminish the sense of a particular period of time within the historic property and impact the integrity of feeling,’ according to the review. ‘The changes impact how Jackson Park and the Midway Plaisance reflect conscious decisions made by the Olmsted firm in determining the organization, forms, patterns of circulation, relationships between major features, arrangement of vegetation, and views.’

“Those changes to Jackson Park would alter the ‘characteristics of the historic property that qualify it for inclusion in the National Register,’ and require “deviating from the simple formality of open space that reflects the historic design principle of informal symmetry and balance in design,’ according to the review.” (Cherone, 7/30/19)

At the Section 106 Consulting Parties meeting, Ward Miller said his organization could not see how the OPC and affiliated plans “will not have an extreme and profound adverse effect on Jackson Park — its location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling or association; also its viewsheds, its quality as a single work of art by Frederick Law Olmsted … How all these historic features in this park could be remediated by all of these actions,” from the OPC’s Museum tower and other buildings to the widening of Stony Island Avenue and Lake Shore Drive to the closure of Cornell Drive, “an original Olmsted feature that was widened in 1960.”

“I think that’s tragic, and I think it’s going to be a huge embarrassment to the City of Chicago. This complex belongs elsewhere nearby,” Miller said. “We’re talking about a lot of trees being cut here, and I don’t even know how we remediate this other than a relocation of the Center or a rethinking of it elsewhere.” (Gettinger, 8/5/19)

The report for the Section 106 Federal review hearings confirm that the current plan would have a substantial “adverse effect” on many aspects of historic Jackson Park. It is clear that “avoidance” is the only way to prevent an extremely profound and negative adverse effect. Preservation Chicago hopes that the National Park Service will choose to respect the findings of the published report and make their decisions accordingly.

POP Lawsuit
“On Tuesday June 11, 2019, U.S. District Judge John Robert Blakey dismissed a lawsuit to block the construction of the Barack Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park. The ruling removes a significant hurdle that had prevented the $500 million project from breaking ground on Chicago’s South Side.

“Nonprofit environmental group Protect Our Parks filed the suit in May 2018, arguing that the city could not legally transfer 20 acres of the historic Frederick Law Olmsted-designed park to a private entity such as the Obama Foundation. Protect Our Parks says it will appeal the ruling.” (Koziarz, 6/11/19)

The group behind the federal lawsuit challenging the construction of the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park got a big boost on March 27, 2019, with a $100,000 initial grant from The Reva and David Logan Foundation. The Logan Foundation money is to support the effort by Protect Our Parks (POP) “to stop the inappropriate allocation of public land at Jackson Park to a private foundation,” the Logan Foundation said in a statement. (Sweet, Chicago Sun-Times, 3/27/19)

“We believe that this ‘land grab’ is both legally and morally wrong, and that the City of Chicago, the Obama Foundation and their partners need to reconsider their choice of location for this project” said board chairman Richard Logan in the statement. “There are so many sites in the city that could benefit from the kudos, the opportunities for employment and the neighborhood regeneration without taking public land and destroying historic city parklands.” (Sweet, Chicago Sun-Times, 3/27/19)

“Make no bones about it. The proposed plans…will backhoe and destroy almost 20 acres of this legacy park land,” said Ward Miller, Executive Director of Preservation Chicago, 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.”

“New Yorkers wouldn’t allow this to happen to Central Park. We shouldn’t allow it to happen here,” said Miller. (Golden, Block Club Chicago, 1/18/19)

“Given this city’s rich and colorful history of graft, payola and insider dealing, Chicagoans are entitled to be enormously skeptical—and even maybe a tad bit cynical—when asked by our civic leaders to take certain things on faith,” according to the Crain’s Chicago Business Editorial Board on August 2, 2018. “But there’s another reason to wonder about the site selection: The University of Chicago-backed Jackson Park deal may not have been cut in the kind of smoke-filled backroom Chicago is notorious for, but it might as well have been. The public disclosures by the Emanuel administration, the Obama Foundation and the U of C have been about as transparent as cigar smoke.” (Crain’s Editorial Board, 8/2/18)

Read the full Adverse Effects article by Heather Cherone at Block Club Chicago

Read the full Lawsuit article by Jay Koziarz at Curbed Chicago

Additional Reading
Federal Review Finds Obama Presidential Center Will Have ‘Adverse Impact’ On Jackson Park; The finding could further delay the construction of the $500 million center designed by former President Barack Obama to house his presidential library, Heather Cherone, Block Club Chicago, July 30, 2019

Public comment period on adverse affects of OPC to remain open ‘til Aug. 30, Aaron Gettinger, Hyde Park Herald, August 5, 2019

Jackson Park residents worry about displacement, gentrification after Obama library is built, ABC 7 Chicago, August 5, 2019

Report: Obama center would have ‘adverse effects’ on historic Jackson Park, Marcella Raymond, WGN 9 Chicago, July 30, 2019

Study Shows Obama Presidential Center to Have ‘Adverse Effect’ on Historic Area, a federal review found the project will have an “adverse effect” on Jackson Park area, Natalie Martinez, NBC 5 Chicago, August 5, 2019 

Obama Presidential Center will have ‘adverse effect’ on Jackson Park’s historic design, new report says, Lolly Bowean, Chicago Tribune, July 30, 2019

Obama Center Will Have ‘Adverse Effect’ on Jackson Park, WTTW Chicago Tonight, Tonia Hill, August 1, 2019

Lightfoot on Obama center: A ‘tremendous opportunity’ to transform Chicago’s South Side and city ‘won’t be bystanders to the process, Gregory Pratt and Lolly Bowean, Chicago Tribune, July 30, 2019

Judge dismisses lawsuit blocking Obama Center construction in Jackson Park; The ruling is a significant victory for the delayed South Side project, Jay Koziarz, Curbed Chicago, 6/11/19

Group suing city to block Obama Center in Jackson Park gets $100,000 grant, Lynn Sweet, Chicago Sun-Times, 3/27/19

Legal fight over building the Obama Center in Jackson Park heats up, Lynn Sweet, Chicago Sun-Times, 1/15/2019

Three New Amicus Briefs Strengthen Legal Challenge to Obama Presidential Center, The Cultural Landscape Foundation, 1/17/19

Lawsuit Opposing Obama Presidential Center Grows, Paris Schutz, WTTW Chicago Tonight, 1/15/2019

Preservationists Continue Fight With City Over Obama Presidential Library “New Yorkers wouldn’t allow this to happen to Central Park. We shouldn’t allow it to happen here,” one Jackson Park Watch leader said. Jamie Nesbitt Golden, Block Club Chicago, 1/18/19


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