Obama Center project opponents start new court fight as pre-construction work commences

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Even as the US Supreme Court declined to review a final appeal of a lawsuit from a group opposing construction of the approximately $500 million Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park, opponents of the project represented by Protect Our Parks, Inc. have filed a second legal action.

It is late in the game in the on-going effort to stop the project, as site preparation work has started, with the official groundbreaking scheduled for September.

The new suit argues that an extensive federal review — required because the park is a national historic site — was flawed, and City Hall, which had a major role in overseeing the review, “rubber stamped” whatever the Obama Foundation wanted, The Chicago Sun-Times has reported.

“The political forces exerted by Defendants City of Chicago and the Chicago Park District that were four-square behind the Obama Foundation, led to the wholesale delegation of decision-making authority,” the new lawsuit says.

An appelate court had earlier dismissed the first lawsuit, saying that Protect Our Parks, which lacked standing to sue the city of Chicago in the first place over its approval of the center’s construction on public land, public broadcaster WTTW-TV has reported. The Supreme Court on April 26 declined to hear the case, as it usually does.

However, unlike the first suit, where the plaintiffs were not South Siders, this time the parties bringing the case all are based near Jackson Park, the Sun-Times reports.

The defendants include Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, City Hall, the Chicago Park District and the Obama Foundation.

City Hall’s Department of Law is reviewing the complaint and does not have a comment at this time,” spokesperson Kristen Cabanban told the newspaper.

An Obama Foundation spokesperson said: “The Foundation is prepared to vigorously defend against this lawsuit, and we continue to look ahead to a groundbreaking in the fall of this year.”

Groundbreaking for the center has been delayed for years because of the federal review required by the historic park location. The review started in 2017 and recently concluded.

In addition to the Obama Center itself, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Gov. J.B. Pritzker recently outlined $200 million package of park and infrastructure work and programs to spark economic development on the South Side.  Most of the money is from the state with the city putting up an unspecified amount.

Lightfoot said there will be a push for some federal funds to help pay for the projects.

The initial transportation improvements in and around Jackson Park will be funded through $174 million of state money, the published reports say.

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