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Hyde Park, Woodlawn, South Shore

Protect Our Parks Files New Lawsuit Seeking To Stop Obama Center’s Construction In Jackson Park

The suit was filed Wednesday, the same day officials announced work would begin to prep for the Obama Center's groundbreaking later this year.

Jackson Park, the proposed home of the Obama Presidential Center.
AJ LaTrace/Block Club Chicago
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WOODLAWN — Nonprofit Protect Our Parks and several residents who live near the planned Obama Presidential Center site have filed another lawsuit seeking to stop the center’s construction in Jackson Park.

The complaint filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court alleges environmental, land use and historic preservation reviews did not follow federal regulations.

The reviews failed to consider ways to avoid “adverse effects” to Jackson Park, which could be done by locating the Obama Center elsewhere, the lawsuit argues.

The plaintiffs also claim the city “rubber-stamped its approval” of site plans while improperly delegating power to the Obama Foundation.

The suit was filed Wednesday, the same day Gov. JB Pritzker, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and other city officials announced work would begin on infrastructure projects ahead of the Obama Center’s groundbreaking later this year.

Protect Our Parks, led by president Herb Caplan, filed the complaint along with the Nichols Park Advisory Council and its president Stephanie Franklin; Invisible Institute founder Jamie Kalven; University of Chicago professor Dr. W.J.T. Mitchell; Hyde Park resident Sid Williams; and South Shore resident Bren Sheriff.

The city, the Chicago Park District and the Obama Foundation are named among the defendants, along with U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland and other federal officials.

“Protect Our Parks is calling on the Foundation to find an alternative site on the South Side that will contribute to the community’s long-term growth and development, save our parks, and alleviate any negative environmental impact,” Protect Our Parks leaders said in a statement.

A spokesperson for the city’s Law Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday night.

The Obama Foundation “is prepared to vigorously defend against this lawsuit,” spokesperson Courtney Williams said in a statement.

A U.S. Circuit Court panel ruled against a separate case filed by Protect Our Parks last summer, but kept the door open for further litigation, the Hyde Park Herald reported. Protect Our Parks filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court in that case last month.

The series of controversial federal reviews ended in February, when city officials announced the National Park Service and Federal Highway Administration had found the proposed road changes would not significantly impact the environment.

Another federal review found the presidential center plans would have “adverse effects” on the historic nature of Jackson Park, the Midway Plaisance and the entire Chicago park boulevard system.

To address these adverse effects, an agreement finalized in December calls for the restoration of the Statue of the Republic and the English Comfort Station, plans for public education on the park’s history and the replacement of native trees that would be lost during the center’s construction.

These proposals are “only meager and cosmetic responses, focusing more on documenting the existing grandeur of Jackson Park but not to preserving it,” the complaint filed Wednesday reads.

A third land use review found there was no “feasible and prudent” alternative to the proposed road changes.

The federal reviews were “a robust and transparent process,” Williams said.

“We continue to look ahead to a groundbreaking in the fall of this year,” Williams said. “… Together we will bring this world-class institution to the South Side of Chicago.”

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