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Obama Presidential Center groundbreaking pushed back again

A rendering of the proposed Obama Presidential Center, which is scheduled to be built in Jackson Park. Federal review delays have pushed back the groundbreaking again, officials said. | Sun-Times file photo

WASHINGTON — Groundbreaking on the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park is being pushed back again until all federal approvals are completed, which will not be until 2019.

“We have long said that everything we do in this process will be consistent with our approach to community input and engagement,” a foundation spokesman said. “We continue to work through the federal review process and to engage with the public on our plans. We are eager to break ground as soon as possible, which we currently expect to occur in 2019.”

The Chicago Sun-Times reported in May that groundbreaking already had been pushed back to the end of the year. From the perspective of the foundation, a few more months is a very minor development given the enormity and permanency of the project.

The date has always been fluid and contingent on the completion of architectural design and approvals, and the need to allow the foundation and former President Barack Obama the time to develop the programming and ceremony around what will be a major groundbreaking event.

The City of Chicago’s Department of Planning and the federal government are still in the midst of a complex review of the project. There is also a federal lawsuit still in its preliminary phases that is aiming to block the project.

The federal review is intended to evaluate and, if needed, mitigate any adverse effects from the project. A federal decision on just a timetable for the federal review process includes meetings about potential mitigation measures in the fall of 2018, with a memo of agreement not to be finalized until early 2019.

Before a memo of understanding can be finalized, there will be public hearings with a variety of interests speaking up, including park preservationist groups and local organizations who have been demanding a community benefits agreement in connection with the project.


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The federal lawsuit seeks a court order to “bar the Park District and the City from approving the building of the Presidential Center and from conveying any interest in or control of the Jackson Park site to the Foundation.”

The federal review includes a broad array of state and local agencies, from State of Illinois archaeologists, to experts from the Federal Highway Administration and the National Park Service — all parties of the review called for under the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Historic Preservation Act.

Jackson Park, a national historic landmark designed by the famed landscape architects Frederick Law Olmsted and his partner Calvert Vaux, was listed on the federal National Register of Historic Places in 1972.

The future Obama Center campus will include a 165,000 square-foot tower to rise 235 feet with eight stories, plus several mezzanine levels; a building to house a Chicago Public Library branch; a combination building to be used a conference and recreation center; and outdoor space.

Moving ahead, track field relocation not subject to federal review

Meanwhile, the Chicago Park District is working on relocating a track field in Jackson Park needing to be moved because of the Obama Center, even though the Federal reviews are not completed.

That project is not subject to federal review and was approved by the Chicago Plan Commission last April.

Still subject to study and debate is the relocation of two baseball diamonds to be displaced by that track field. One diamond will be somewhere in Jackson Park with the location of the second baseball field not yet determined.