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Hyde Park, Woodlawn, South Shore

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.

Jackson Park, the proposed home of the Obama Presidential Center.
AJ LaTrace/Block Club Chicago

WOODLAWN — In the latest move to persuade the city and the Park District to reconsider their request to modify the design of the Obama Presidential Library site, Preservation Chicago and Jackson Park Watch filed a “friends of the courts” brief Tuesday. 

The brief, one of three amicus briefs filed ahead of next month’s hearing, was filed on behalf of Protect Our Parks, Inc., a local advocacy group dedicated to preserving the city’s green spaces. Protect Our Parks has been in a years-long legal battle with city and park district officials over what they consider a grave danger to one of the city’s premiere parks.

“We filed the amicus brief filed in response to the idea that Chicago has given away park land in the past,” said Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago. “Elected officials are giving away this land and [it] sets a terrible precedent.”

Miller said that the group would prefer the library on another site, like University of Chicago’s campus or west of Washington Park.

“This library should be a great asset, not tearing up the park,” Miller said. “This plan removes a public benefit. It was a terrible idea from the get-go.”

A second brief, filed by University of Chicago professor Richard Epstein, challenges that idea, declaring that the taking of public land for private use violates public trust. The third brief, filed by the Cultural Landscape Foundation, a Washington D.C. nonprofit, claims that construction of the library would “irrevocably harm” Jackson Park.

“Jackson Park residents are concerned about the impact it will have, and whether they’ll be displaced in the process,” said Mary Lu Seidel, Preservation Chicago’s Director of Engagement, adding that the group is demanding a community benefits agreement to ensure that the green space remains protected. “We stand to lose 20 acres of land if this goes through. This is about protecting the historic and cultural integrity of the community.”

Since Jackson Park is on the National Registry of Historic Places, it must undergo a Section 106 review, an act that requires federal agencies to “consider the effects of federally funded projects on historic properties.” Two meetings have been held so far, according to Jackson Park Watch. 

Miller said that they’ll have to wait and see how the judge rules at the Feb. 14 hearing before figuring out the next steps. 

In the meantime, they’ll keep fighting, Seidel said. 

“New Yorkers wouldn’t allow this to happen to Central Park. We shouldn’t allow it to happen here,” he said. 

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