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Hyde Park, Woodlawn, South Shore

Federal Judge Denies Bid To Halt Obama Center’s Construction In Jackson Park

A U.S. District Court judge ruled against South Side residents' request to pause the center's construction during their latest lawsuit, but the judge didn't dismiss the case outright.

Construction along Cornell Drive near the planned site for the Obama Presidential Center on June 29, 2021.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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WOODLAWN — South Side preservationists’ latest attempt to stop the Obama Presidential Center from being built in Jackson Park has suffered a major setback, as a federal judge denied the group’s request to halt construction.

U.S. District Court Judge John Robert Blakey ruled against nonprofit Protect Our Parks and several South Side residents Thursday as they sought an injunction to pause the Obama Center’s construction amid their lawsuit against city and federal officials.

The group sued the city, the Obama Foundation and federal officials in April, alleging federal reviews of site plans did not follow regulations.

“After considering the parties’ briefs and oral argument, this Court finds that Plaintiffs have not met the standard for injunctive relief on their federal claims, and accordingly denies their motion for preliminary injunction,” the ruling reads.

Blakey will soon issue a more detailed opinion on the request to halt construction. He did not dismiss the lawsuit outright, and is still considering a motion to do so.

The plaintiffs will “immediately file an appeal” of the ruling, Protect Our Parks said in a statement. The group may seek an appeal while the lawsuit continues, attorneys for the plantiffs Michael Rachlis and Richard Epstein said.

“While we are certainly disappointed in the Court’s decision, we will review the full opinion and explore all available options,” Protect Our Parks said. “In addition, we will continue to vigorously pursue and present our arguments in court in the coming weeks.”

The Obama Foundation praised the ruling.

“We know many in the city and community are eager for us to continue our work to bring jobs and investment to the South Side, and the ruling today allows us to do just that,” spokesperson Courtney Williams said in a statement.

Protect Our Parks filed its lawsuit the same day Gov. JB Pritzker, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and other city officials announced work would begin on infrastructure projects related to the center.

Federal environmental, land use and historic preservation 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.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs requested the injunction June 15, seeking to stop construction activity “that would permanently alter any environmental or historic resources in Jackson Park while the case is pending.”

The group supports an alternative site plan west of Washington Park drafted by local architect Grahm Balkany.

“It makes every bit of sense and virtually sells itself,” Balkany told Block Club. “They don’t have to do any damage to parkland or existing historic buildings. A commercial corridor and CTA train is right there. [The area] is almost screaming for this type of development.”

The ongoing suit is Protect Our Parks’ second legal battle against the center’s construction. 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.

Road work in Jackson Park is set to begin Aug. 13 in preparation for the center’s arrival. The Obama Foundation plans to begin construction on the $500 million center shortly afterward, with an official groundbreaking planned in the fall.

Construction is set to be finished in 2025, nine years after the foundation announced its intention to build the center.

Representatives for Lightfoot’s office could not immediately be reached for comment.

Credit: The Obama Foundation
A north-facing rendering of the Obama Presidential Center campus in Jackson Park.

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