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Judge: Obama Center Construction Can Move Forward in Chicago Neighborhood

Wed June 26, 2019 - Midwest Edition #13
ophia Tareen – ASSOCIATED PRESS


Conceptual site model of the Obama Center 
(Obama Foundation photo)
Conceptual site model of the Obama Center (Obama Foundation photo)

Plans to build Barack Obama's $500 million presidential center on Chicago's lakefront can move forward, a federal judge said June 11, in dismissing an advocacy group's lawsuit objecting to the use of historic public parkland.

After hearing nearly an hour of arguments, U.S. District Judge John Robert Blakey said there should be "no delay in construction."

"This case is dismissed," he said.

Blakey's quick announcement in court surprised many. He later issued a detailed, 52-page ruling in which he called the park advocacy group's arguments unconvincing.

Protect Our Parks' lawsuit, along with a federal review, has halted progress on the planned museum and library that was supposed to open in 2021 in Jackson Park. The 500-acre park along Lake Michigan is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Among other things, Protect Our Parks argued the city illegally transferred land for the park to The Obama Foundation, a private entity overseeing construction of the center. In court, Protect Our Parks attorney Mark Roth accused the city of allowing a "massive giveaway" to the foundation and questioned the public benefit.

Meanwhile, lawyers for the city contended the whole museum was a public benefit itself, along with plans to maintain the park grounds. City attorneys also have accused the parks group of misreading the law and misrepresenting how the land approval works.

In siding with the city, Blakey said the center "surely provides a multitude of benefits to the public" including "a range of cultural, artistic, and recreational opportunities."

Roth said the parks group planned to appeal and would look at other legal options to halt construction.

The site of the center — which is to include a digital presidential library, public library branch, recording studio, classroom space and personal artifacts — is near where the former president began his political career and lived with his family before moving to the White House. The facility, on 20 acres of the park, will be paid for with private donations.

"Our vision for the Obama Presidential Center has always been one where the location reinforces the project's core aims: a celebration of history, a place of connection and engagement for the public and an investment in community," Obama Foundation CEO David Simas said in a statement.

While the library also has faced criticism from residents over the traffic it will bring and people it will displace, the decision was largely celebrated by neighborhood organizations and business groups.

"This is a benefit to our community," said Erin Adams, a single mom who lives nearby and uses the park often.