A federal judge has allowed a lawsuit to procede to stop the construction of former President Barack Obama’s presidential center on Chicago’s South Side.
The lawsuit argues that the center would compromise 20 acres of Jackson Park, which is located seven miles from downtown Chicago. Its centerpiece would be a 225-foot museum tower, surrounded by several smaller buildings. Supporters of the project believe that it would create 5,000 jobs during construction and more than 2,500 permanent jobs.
Protect Our Parks, the advocacy group that filed that lawsuit, claims that city illegally transferred parkland to the Obama Foundation, “gifting” prized landed to a Chicago favorite son. They accused city officials of manipulating the approval process and dabbling with legislation to get around laws designed to ensure residents have access to lakeside parks.
The Chicago Park District first sold the land to the city for $1 to make the park available for the project. Illinois legislators amended the Illinois Aquarium and Museum Act to include presidential libraries as an exception to the no-development rules if there’s a compelling public interest. The Chicago City Council approved the project by a 47-to-1 vote last spring.
The Obama Foundation would pay $10 to the city for the use of the park for 99 years, cover the cost of building the complex and be responsible for operating costs for 99 years. When the construction is finished, the center’s physical structures would be transferred to the city for free. This means the city would own the center, but wouldn’t have control of what happens there.
“They are essentially giving [property] to Obama … for 10 cents a year for 99 years,” parks advocacy lawyer Mark Roth said.
In his ruling, U.S. District Judge John Robert Blakey said that Protect Our Parks has standing to sue the city because it represents taxpayers with concerns that giving land in Jackson Park to the Obama center, goes against their due process rights.