Obama Presidential Center alternative proposed by Protect Our Parks – Crain’s Chicago Business


In a last-minute bid to derail a project that finally appears to have a lot of momentum, opponents of the proposed Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park have released some flashy schematics of how a reimagined center might instead be built elsewhere on the South Side.

The artist’s renditions, based on rough designs by South Side architect Grahm Balkany, are only a concept for how the center and an adjacent parking structure could be built just east of Washington Park, on land mostly owned by the city and University of Chicago that earlier had been pitched to the Obama Foundation.

In a statement, the foundation rejected the idea of switching locations at this point, something that further delay a construction that now is set to begin in September after more than three years of legal and political battles: “We know the community is eager for investment to come to the area, and we are proud to be able to do just that in Jackson Park.”

But Protect Our Parks, which has filed a suit in U.S. district court here to block the Jackson Park site, said it wants to demonstrate that alternatives are available.

“This is a citywide, not just a neighborhood issue,” said Richard Epstein, the group’s attorney, in an interview.   There is no reason to risk “irreparable” harm to Jackson Park if an alternate is available, he asserted.

The foundation denies that any harm will be done. It also contends the proposed $700 million project actually will improve Jackson Park while stimulating $3.1 billion in economic activity in Hyde Park and nearby neighborhoods.

Protect Our Parks has talked for awhile about potentially using the land across the street from Washington Park. The University of Chicago years ago pitched that location as a possible site for the presidential center, according to Protect our Parks. The foundation, which is building the center, actually rated the site more highly at one point than the location on the west side of Jackson Park.

Balkany said 18 to 20 acres of land are involved in his design, all but a small portion owned by local government or U of C. He conceded that the group has only begun discussing details with local officials and groups, and that no elected official has signed on. But he insisted the schematics are “not a fantasy,” but instead a design based on publicly available data about how much space the center needs.

As with the Jackson Park location, the proposal for Washington Park features a tall, iconic central structure, surrounded by greenery and some smaller buildings. Detailed cost projections and the like were not released. Protect Our Parks contends that the site not only will not require using park land but is more convenient to the Dan Ryan Expressway and Chicago Transit Authority’s Green Line than the Jackson Park site, which is near Metra Electric Tracks and DuSable Lake Shore Drive.

Final briefs in the case are due in federal court by July 28. A final ruling in Protect Our Parks’ request for an injunction blocking construction could follow at any time thereafter.

Protect Our Parks says the issues it has raised in its legal action are new. The foundation denies that, saying all issues either were raised in an earlier, unsuccessful action or dealt with the federal regulatory reviews.