Ground breaking for the Obama Presidential Center in Chicago has been delayed as reviewers assess the impact of the center on park land that will be gobbled up by the massive project.
The center, estimated to cost about $500 million, includes three buildings — a museum, athletic facilities and a public library branch.
One issue from the start is that the center would eat up a slice of historic Jackson Park.
Some opponents of the project have called for the park to be spared, and want the center built on private land. Residents in the area have also said the initial plan does nothing for them, and want to be assured that after the center transforms the neighborhood, they can still afford to live there.
Amid these crosscurrents, the federal review of the project has been delayed, leading the center to push back ground- breaking, the Chicago Tribune reported.
“We have a sense of urgency about this project (and) when we started, we wanted the public to know we would break ground as soon as possible,” said Michael Strautmanis, the vice president for civic engagement for the Obama Foundation. “But we also knew there were some things that were not in our control. We insist on going through the process with integrity and without rushing.”
— Jeffrey Levin (@jilevin) July 28, 2018
Ground breaking is now scheduled for 2019. The center had been scheduled to be completed in 2021.
Jackson Park is on the National Register of Historic Places, which means the impact of the center on it is required to be examined. The federal Environmental Protection Agency must also sign off on the project’s environmental effects. If the review finds any issues, ground-breaking could be delayed even further.
A review meeting had been scheduled for June, but was pushed back to July and now until late summer.
Residents who want their terms met as a condition of the project said they will use the delay to their advantage.
“We have a new window of opportunity before the next election to protect the most vulnerable people in our community,” said Parrish Brown, an activist with the Black Youth Project 100 Chicago Chapter. “We’re gathering to make sure Mayor (Rahm) Emanuel and the local aldermen do the right thing, or we’ll have to elect people who will.”
Residents want 30 percent of all new housing near the center to be set aside as affordable housing, a tax freeze for properties near the center and jobs for those in the neighborhood.
The federal reviews are separate from a lawsuit that seeks to block the center.
A lawsuit by a group called Protect Our Parks is objecting that the center, which was initially sold as the spot where Obama’s presidential papers would be housed, will in fact only have digital copies of his papers, the Chicago Sun-Times has reported.
The lawsuit labeled the change an “institutional bait and switch.”
Although the center will be built with private donations, $174 million of public money is being used to support it through road work near the project and another $50 million to repair a rail stop, the Washington Examiner reported.
Moving ahead with the center was supported by Chicago’s city council in April, but Alderman David Moore objected to spending money on work related to the center while streets in his community are in disrepair.
“I’m in a community where there are streets that are totally jacked up far worse than what’s around Stony Island, and the administration is saying they don’t have money to do those streets,” Moore said, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
“I can’t get $800,000 to go to streets that haven’t been done in 20 years.”
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