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Activists Trying to Stop $500M Obama Center

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

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A federal lawsuit to prevent city officials from authorizing construction of the $500 million Obama Presidential Center, to be located in Chicago, was filed May 14, stemming from concerns over plan revisions that now omit a library and transfer park land to a private entity.

The design, created by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects|Partners, with landscape architecture by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, was first introduced in May 2017. The complex is planned to be located in Jackson Park, on Chicago’s South Side.

Plan Details

The 19.6-acre complex was to be composed of six parts: a public plaza, an athletic center, a museum, a library, the Forum community and event building and a parking facility. The latter was initially proposed as an above-ground parking garage, but has since been relocated underground to the south of the library, due to community backlash.

The main cluster of buildings was originally slated to include the museum tower, the Forum and the library, and all would be connected by a basement level that would receive natural light through sunken openings, noted the Chicago Tribune.

The $300 million contract for the construction of the complex was awarded to the Lakeside Alliance, which is composed of Powers & Sons Construction Co., Turner Construction Co., Brown & Momen, UJAMAA Construction and Safeway Construction Co.

Legal Trouble

In March 2015, the City Council approved an ordinance for Chicago Park District land in the park to be transferred to the city for lease to the Obama Foundation; a rewrite of that ordinance is now necessary, however, due to changes in the boundaries. In order for the project to move forward, the new parameters must be approved.

The lawsuit, filed by Protect Our Parks Inc. and three individuals, is seeking a court order to prevent the approvals and control of the site being transferred to the Foundation. Supporting reasons for a court order include:

  • The original transferal plans included the official Obama Federal Library, but former president Barack Obama has decided this center will not include his official presidential library;
  • Transferring park land to a private, non-government entity is in violation of park district code; and
  • Public park land cannot be turned over to such an entity for private use.

Juanita Irizarry, executive director of Friends of the Parks, noted that while group officials welcome the Obama Center, there is disagreement with the choice of park land for the project, as there is “vacant land across the street from Washington Park.”

On Thursday (May 17), the Chicago Plan Commission met and, after a lengthy public comment period, approved all zoning and other necessary plans for the project. The lawsuit may still impact the project’s timeline, but the Presidential Center is set to break ground later this year, and is slated to be open in 2021.


Tagged categories: Design build; Maintenance + Renovation; North America; President Obama; Public spaces; Urban Planning

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