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Obama Foundation delays filing plans for presidential center

Former President Barack Obama points out features of the proposed Obama Presidential Center, which is scheduled to be built in nearby Jackson Park, during a gathering at the South Shore Cultural Center on May 3, 2017. | Scott Olson/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — With many issues still unresolved, the Obama Foundation will not be submitting plans for the Obama Presidential Center to the Chicago Plan Commission until sometime next year, with the federal reviews on building in historic Jackson Park kicking off Friday, possibly running through the fall, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.

The first meeting with representatives from federal, state and city governments agencies plus invited stakeholders takes place Friday from 10 a.m. to noon at the South Shore YMCA, 6330 S. Stony Island Ave.

Earlier this year, the foundation gauged that the designs would be in shape to send over to the commission by the end of the year. Taking a few more months before getting in front of the commission is not seen by the foundation as a significant setback, a source told the Sun-Times.

Complicating matters for the foundation is that the center, on public land only because of former President Barack Obama, is now linked for purposes of this federal review with a controversial proposal to combine golf courses in Jackson Park and South Shore Cultural Center into one PGA-level course.

The federal reviews — to identify any adverse impacts because of the projects and then how to mitigate them — are triggered because Jackson Park was put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. Jackson Park was designed in 1871 by the famed landscape architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux.

In any case, it’s only prudent for the foundation to first see what matters are raised during the reviews to be led by the Federal Highway Commission working with City Hall and state agencies.

There will be environmental, historic and other evaluations taking place in the coming months. The Illinois State Archaeological Survey is doing an archaeology survey of the site.

A sizzling issue remains the closures of Cornell and Marquette Drives as they run through the park, plus other traffic issues.

All the roadway changes in and around the park add up to a variety of adverse impacts, according to the watchdog Jackson Park Watch.

In a letter to Eleanor Gorkski, the deputy commissioner in the planning, design and historic preservation division of City Hall’s planning department, Jackson Park Watch said the foundation plan for an above ground garage on Midway Plaisance “destroys the historic sweep” of the plaisance and intrudes on the Olmsted design.

According to a document prepared for the meeting, which outlined the timeline, about 56 entities were invited to participate in the review and 32 have accepted.

The goal is to develop a memo of agreement, according to the document, to “develop alternatives to avoid, minimize or mitigate adverse effects.”