Jackson Park construction related to Obama Center halts while federal reviews continue

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The Chicago Park District and city say that construction related to the $300 million Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park has been halted, while federal reviews of the project continue.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported in August that the park district was cutting down trees in the park despite a federal lawsuit, city and federal approvals pending, and a pledge from the Obama Foundation CEO to keep trees intact until the permitting process is complete.

Given the controversy over the tree cutting and federal agencies becoming more active in reviews, the city at the beginning of September decided to slow down construction of a new track field – needed because the proposed Obama Center will be taking over land where an existing field is located, The Sun-Times reported.

The city decided to stop the work after a Sept. 11 meeting with the National Park Service and the Federal Highway Administration, the newspaper reported.

“The Chicago Park District and the City of Chicago began construction on the new track & field in Jackson Park in the sincere belief and understanding that the work was appropriate, prudent and in conformance with federal law,” Shannon Breymaier, the city’s deputy communications director, said in a statement.

“However, in light of the concerns expressed by the federal agencies, and in consultation with Alderman Hairston, out of an abundance of caution and to allay any doubts about the intentions of the city in respect to the ongoing federal reviews, the federal agencies have been informed that the Chicago Park District will stop construction until dialogue with the federal agencies confirms that resumption of work is appropriate.

“The only continuing work on the site at this time will consist of demobilization activities, which may continue for several days and is necessary to ensure site security and public safety,” she said.

The Sun-Times reports that the federal reviews are happening because the proposed Obama Center is being built in the park designed by landscape architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux and listed on the federal National Register of Historic Places in 1972.

Plans to close Cornell and Marquette drives, plus other related road projects, require a review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the National Historic Preservation Act, the newspaper reports.

The National Park Service is overseeing the NEPA review, and the Federal Highway Administration is leading the historic preservation review.

Groundbreaking will be delayed until next year because of the reviews.

The center is expected to have three buildings including a museum, meeting rooms, an athletic center and a public library branch.

The Lakeside Alliance, a collective of five construction firms — most of them owned by African-Americans — has been hired to manage the project. Joint venture members include Powers & Sons Construction Company, UJAMAA Construction Inc., Brown & Momen, Inc., Safeway Construction Company, and Turner Construction Company.

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