A federal judge dealt a severe blow to former President Barack Obama's hopes of building a massive presidential library complex on Chicago's South side Tuesday, allowing Protect Our Parks, an advocacy organization dedicated to preserving designated public land, to go forward with its lawsuit challenging the project.
U.S. District Judge John Robert Blakey, an Obama appointee, issued the ruling allowing Protect Our Parks to challenge the city of Chicago's grant of more than 20 acres of historic Jackson Park to the Obama presidential library project for a pittance — reportedly a mere $10 for an indefinite lease on the land, Fox News reports.
Jackson Park is a federally recognized historic park designed by Frederick Olmsted, the same landscape designer who fashioned New York City's Central Park. The city of Chicago wants to "lease" 20 acres of the 500 acre park to the Obama library, allowing the former president to use the park's land indefinitely for "a 225-foot museum tower, surrounded by a cluster of smaller buildings, including a 300-seat auditorium."
In 2012, during President Obama's tenure, the federal government reiterated its commitment to preserving Jackson Park, calling the land "inappropriate" for development because of its historical value.
Protect Our Parks argues that the land should be preserved as-is, and that the Obama presidential foundation could have explored other options, placing the complex on vacant land, of which Chicago's South Side has plenty.
“The Obama Foundation and the University of Chicago created this controversy by insisting on the confiscation of public parkland,” said Charles A. Birnbaum, President & CEO of The Cultural Landscape Foundation told The Daily Wire in an emailed statement. “The Obama Foundation could make this issue go away by using vacant and/or city-owned land on the South Side for the Obama Presidential Center (which is planned to be a private facility rather than a presidential library administered by the National Archives), or, better still, land owned by the University of Chicago, which submitted the winning bid to host the Center.”
Protect Our Parks also contends that the city used a roundabout process to "hide" how the land would be used, first allowing the Chicago Park District to "sell" the land to city for $1. "Illinois legislators amended the state's Illinois Aquarium and Museum Act to include presidential libraries as an exception to the no-development rules if there's a compelling public interest," according to Fox News.
The city then inked the "lease" with the Obama Foundation. Once the deal is settled, the Foundation would "transfer" the land back to the city, allowing the city to own the buildings but exert no control over the library itself.
Illinois residents have also complained about the project, claiming that the Obama presidential library can afford more than the pittance community members believe the city and state is requesting for use of the park. The city is already shelling out more than $150 million for "infrastructure" improvement beneffiting the park — a plan approved last summer, according to the Chicago Sun-Times — and the state of Illinois has budgeted around $225 million for the library project.
Taxpayers will shoulder approximately $174 million of that. The Obama Foundation is expected to contribute $350 million to the project, which they claim will help spur economic growth on the city's South Side, where it is desperately needed.