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Judge asked to block Obama Center-related construction in Jackson Park

Cut trees in Jackson Park, across from the Hyde Park Academy High School. | Rick Majewski/For the Sun-Times.

WASHINGTON — A federal judge is being asked to temporarily block construction related to the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park by park preservationists going to court in the wake of a Chicago Sun-Times report revealing that trees were cut down at the park despite a lack of final government approvals.

The motion was filed as part of an existing lawsuit against the city of Chicago and Chicago Park District.

The lawsuit, filed on May 14, aims to prevent the use of Jackson Park for the Obama Center complex. The new motion will be the subject of a hearing on Aug. 14.

Lawyers for the city and park district told the court in a June 28 brief that the lawsuit was “premature” because the City Council had not yet enacted an ordinance authorizing the work or approved terms of the construction with the Obama Foundation. A judge put a stay on the litigation.

The situation changed when the Sun-Times reported Monday that the park district was digging up baseball diamonds and cutting trees on land adjacent to the proposed Obama Center site.


The baseball land will be used to replace a track and field facility displaced by the Obama complex.

Since the existing track field will eventually be demolished for the Obama development, the Obama Foundation agreed to pay the Chicago Park District up to $3.5 million to build a new track field. The Obama Foundation also paid for the detailed study of the hundreds of trees in and around the 19.3 acres to be carved from Jackson Park for the Obama complex.

The Obama Foundation is trying to distance itself from the tree-cutting controversy on the pretext that they have little to do with it because, a spokesman said Monday, the construction work is not on the Obama Center site.

New locations for the two bumped baseball diamonds have not yet been determined.

And some news: The Sun-Times confirmed on Wednesday that the Obama Foundation will not be paying for the new baseball fields. That was “not part of the agreement on the fields,” a foundation spokesman said.

Who will pay? Possibly Chicago taxpayers. City Hall spokesman Shannon Breymaier said “any new baseball diamonds that may be relocated due to the OPC will either be funded by the Park District or through private partnerships.”


The motion to lift the stay on the lawsuit argues that the judge was misled by the city and park district.

The lawsuit was filed by Protect Our Parks, Inc. and three park preservationists, Charlotte Adelman; Maria Valencia and Jeremiah Jurevis.

On June 28, lawyers for the city and the park district argued in a joint brief that the lawsuit was “premature” because “the terms of the agreement do not yet exist, nor has the City Council authorized the city to enter into an agreement with the Foundation or approved the terms.

“…The City Council has yet to introduce, much less enact, an ordinance authorizing the construction and operation of the Center,” the city/park district brief said.

The Protect Our Parks motion countered in the Wednesday brief that the tree cutting knocked out the “premature” argument.

“The Court accepted the Defendants’ representations that no work would take place in Jackson Park related to the Obama Center,” the motion stated.

“…The Park District and City falsely represented to this court that no work would commence in Jackson Park related to the Obama Center. … The City’s claim that there is no urgency to the suit as the City and Park District will not begin any construction activities related to the Obama Center has turned out to be a lie,” the motion said.


The Obama Foundation needs approvals not just from the City Council. A complex federal review is also pending with completion months away.

Note that the response from a spokesman for the Obama Foundation sidesteps the issues of whether work started in Jackson Park too soon.

The spokesman said, “The Foundation’s focus is on the federal review process and continuing to engage with the public on our plans for a presidential center and museum that will tell the story of this historic presidency and Chicago’s role in it, that will both respect and enhance Jackson Park, and that will showcase the South Side to the world. We are confident that the City’s process to authorize the use of land in Jackson Park for the Presidential Center is appropriate and that our plan is consistent with Chicago’s rich tradition of locating world-class museums in its parks for the benefit of the parks, those museums, and the millions of people and families that enjoy both every year.”

CITY OF CHICAGO REACT (Updated Aug. 9, 2018)

From Breymaier: “We are confident that this motion, like the underlying lawsuit, is without merit. Indeed, the Park District’s plan to build and operate a new track and field in Jackson Park on land south of the proposed site of the Obama Presidential Center it is not even part of the lawsuit. That plan has been a matter of public record for months and was discussed in public meetings earlier this year.

“The lawsuit challenges the proposed transfer of Park District land to the City, and the Foundation’s use of that land for the OPC. The new track and field project will be on land that is not part of that transfer. Rather, the Park District will continue to own and operate the land. Track and field facilities on Park District land are common throughout the City.”CHICAGO PARK DISTRICT REACTNone, despite repeated requests. (Update Aug. 9)

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