Plans for the forthcoming Obama Presidential Center in Chicago have been at the center of debates for months now. Strong community opposition, petitions and now a lawsuit has been filed over the center, specifically how plans have been developed, rolled out and brought to Chicagoans without consideration of their concerns over a fair and legal project that meets their needs.
A city nonprofit called for a halt in construction over what it said was the project organizers’ misleading description of the center in a federal lawsuit Monday.
Protect Our Parks Inc., the nonprofit that filed in U.S. District Court, said organizers have pulled a “bait and switch” with marketing the center as a presidential library but later moving away from that idea, the Chicago Tribune reported. Original plans for the center, slated for a 19-acre plot on the western edge of Jackson Park and expected to open in 2021, included space for historic documents and archives from Barack Obama’s presidency under the National Archives and Records Administration’s supervision. However, current plans have changed, Protect Our Parks said.
A newer proposal included spaces for a basketball court, a yoga space and a test kitchen, with the center priced at $1.5 billion. Plans to follow the style of traditional libraries with books and papers lining shelves were also thrown out, with a replacement option for a digital archive, which came under criticism in January.
A University of Chicago group also started a petition to move the center from Jackson Park to another location, The Associated Press reported.
Community members also raised issues over fears of collusion between the Obama Foundation and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the Washington Examiner reported. The two parties have had closed-door negotiations over building the project on public land despite public opposition, they said.
Also, the Obama Foundation has refused to sign a Community Benefits Agreement that would put residents at ease who are scared over gentrification bringing evictions and higher rents in the area that will surround the center. Not enough community meetings have featured opportunities for public discussion, among other concerns.
Protect our Parks also said in the lawsuit Monday that the Chicago Park District and the City of Chicago don’t have the authority to transfer public parkland to the Obama Foundation. If the Park District sells the land where the presidential center is planned to be built on to the city who leases it to the Obama Foundation, the selling and leasing would be part of an attempt to “legitimize an illegal land grab,” the lawsuit alleged.
The city, however, disagreed with the lawsuit, saying that it represents a “roadblock in economic progress” on Chicago’s South Side.
The lawsuit comes ahead of a plan commission vote Thursday on the boundaries of the Obama Presidential Center, as well as to the lease for the Obama Foundation to begin construction, the Tribune reported.