Construction of Obama Presidential Center closer to reality despite community concerns

A city review of the project, mandated by law, signals the 20-acre complex in Jackson Park could begin next year

Jul.July 30, 2019 09:00 AM
Barack Obama and a rendering of the Obama Presidential Center (Credit: Getty Images)

Barack Obama and a rendering of the Obama Presidential Center (Credit: Getty Images)

A city review that predicts the 20-acre Obama Presidential Center could have a negative impact on the Jackson Park neighborhood also signals a milestone for the construction plan.

That’s because when the review is completed, construction of the $500 million project could get underway as soon as next spring, according to the Chicago Tribune.

City officials wrote that building the library and community center for the 44th president could have an “adverse impact” on the nearby surrounding historic district. It would “alter, directly or indirectly, characteristics of the historic property that qualify it for inclusion” on the National Register of Historic Places, they wrote.

But the report has no bearing on whether the proposal is approved, or whether it’s eligible for public funding. Instead, it checks a box in a required federal review process by listing the area’s historic assets and describing how they could be altered by new construction. The review is required because Jackson Park is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

An Obama Foundation executive told the Tribune that he was “pleased” by the report and ready to “move to the next” step in the review process.

The foundation selected Jackson Park in 2016 as its preferred site for a presidential library, but the plan was hamstrung by a lawsuit from neighbors who said it would illegally alter a public park. That suit was dismissed last month, clearing the way for the project to move forward.

Last week, a pair of South Side aldermen introduced a measure to the City Council to tighten affordable housing mandates for new construction around the library in an effort to stanch gentrification in the surrounding Woodlawn neighborhood.

[Chicago Tribune] — Alex Nitkin

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