“While we are certainly disappointed in the court’s decision, we will review the full opinion and explore all available options, including immediately filing an appeal and seeking relief from the appellate court. In addition, we will continue to vigorously pursue and present our arguments in court in the coming weeks,” a representative for the group said in a statement.
Opposition to the Obama Presidential Center began in 2015, when it became clear that what was originally pitched to the city as a public presidential library was in fact a private facility for a private organization, the Obama Foundation. The facility as it is currently proposed will occupy more than 19 acres of public space in one of Chicago’s largest and oldest green spaces, Jackson Park. The plans for the facility do include a public library, but also a private museum dedicated to Obama’s presidency and legacy, a multipurpose activity center and public meeting spaces.
An artist rendering of the planned Obama Presidential Center in Chicago’s Jackson Park. (Photo via the Obama Foundation)
The Obama Foundation has stated that over 90% of the center’s grounds will remain open to the public, and will enrich the surrounding community with new amenities and economic opportunities.
“The center will create jobs and economic opportunity, especially for South Side residents… [it] won’t just preserve historic Jackson Park, [it] will bring opportunity and breathe new life into the community we love,” former President Barack Obama said in a statement on his eponymous foundation’s website.
The park activists who oppose its construction in their neighborhood are unconvinced. Privatization is a dirty word in working-class Chicago politics, and there is no getting around the fact that the center would eat up acres of public space in a 150-year-old park on the National Register of Historic Places.
In a video on the Protect Our Parks website, group member Bren Sheriff said Jackson Park “is a place for family gatherings, community gathering, it allows for children to be able to get out and run… I just regret that some of the respect of our land in public spaces has not necessarily been honored.”
“They’re taking, essentially, 20 acres of parkland that’s not being replaced anywhere else,” another Protect Our Parks member, Brenda Nelms, said in the same video.
As a way to satisfy both camps, architect Grahm Balkany has proposed an alternative site for the Obama President Center in Washington Park, another of Chicago’s South Side green spaces. The park has a historic connection to Chicago’s Black community and is closer to public transportation than the current Jackson Park proposal.
“Where the Jackson Park location usurps precious parkland and massacres mature trees, the Washington Park location enlarges the existing green by several acres and does nothing to damage [Jackson Park designer Frederick Law] Olmsted’s legacy,” Balkany said in a statement on the Protect Our Parks website.
He added, “Where the Jackson Park location is likely to be accessed almost exclusively by vehicular traffic, the Washington Park location is situated in one of the most transit-rich corridors of North America, and directly interfaces with the CTA Green Line – in so doing, directly tapping into the bloodstream of the city.”
Thus far, neither the Obama Foundation – nor Obama himself – has acknowledged this alternative plan. The foundation still plans to break ground in Jackson Park this year, with a 99 year tax-free lease on the land from the city that it paid $10 for.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office did not return a request for comment on the deal.
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