OPC

Construction of the Obama Presidential Center is well under way, with the skeleton of its main tower now visible above the fence that encloses its 19 acre campus in Jackson Park.

A federal district court judge ruled against a lawsuit aiming to stop the ongoing construction of the Obama Presidential Center (OPC) in Jackson Park, though park activists promised once again to continue their litigation against the project.

The opinion was the latest to go against Protect Our Parks (POP), the nonprofit that is the central plaintiff in the case, after the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals denied the group’s request for a preliminary injunction to block the ongoing construction of the OPC in July. 

A spokesperson for POP and the other plaintiffs, which include several local residents and the Nichols Park Advisory Council, said in a statement that the “Jackson Park Litigation did not end with the district court ruling” and that the group would once again appeal the decision to the higher courts. 

“While to be sure (the Nov. 3) judgment concludes the matter before the district court in favor of the defendants in the Jackson Park litigation, that is only part of the story,” the spokesperson wrote. “With the entry of this decision, an appeal can proceed based on several major legal issues now ripe for appeal to the 7th Circuit and, if necessary, by the Supreme Court.”

According to the statement, one of the key legal issues is whether the project, with its transfers of city-owned public property to a private party, the Obama Foundation, violates the requirements of the public trust doctrine. Another alleges that the “decisions in regards to the project’s compliance with well-established federal and local environmental and historical protection requirements are clearly erroneous.” 

This lawsuit, Protect Our Parks v. Buttigieg, was filed in April 2021. The lawsuit sought “declaratory and injunctive relief from any and all activities that may adversely affect the environment, natural, scenic, cultural and/or historic resources associated with the roadwork and construction of the Obama Presidential Center (the “OPC”).”

In August 2021, district court Judge John Robert Blakey ruled that the Obama Presidential Center groundbreaking could begin in Jackson Park, denying a preliminary injunction in the lawsuit against the project. The lawsuit, however, continued.

Blakely dismissed part of this lawsuit this March, including state law claims and concern the interpretation of public trust doctrine and similar statutes designed to protect public land. These counts were then appealed in July to the appeals court, which again denied the group’s request for a preliminary injunction to block the ongoing OPC construction.

All the while, the lawsuit — stripped down to only a set of federal claims — continued in the district court. These claims, which asserted the failure of federal agencies to perform due diligence during the review processes for the OPC, were ruled against in Blakey’s Nov. 3 opinion.

In this most-recent ruling, Blakely concluded, “The court determined that no genuine disputes of material fact exist in connection with the (plaintiffs’) seven federal counts” and terminated the case.

A spokesperson for the Obama Foundation, which was a defendant in the case, said in a statement: “This is a victory for all who have worked alongside us on this journey to bring investment and opportunity to Chicago’s South Side.  With its (Nov. 3) decision, the court is making it possible for us to deliver on our commitment to create a world-class destination that will attract people from around the globe and stand as a reminder to all — but particularly young people in Chicago — that individuals have the power to be the change they want to see.” 

If POP appeals the ruling, it will be the third time the group has gone before the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In 2020, the federal appeals court also ruled against the group’s previous lawsuit, Protect Our Parks v. Chicago Park District, and the U.S. Supreme Court then declined to hear that case on appeal.

Of this lawsuit ruling, the POP spokesperson wrote: “In seeking justice, Plaintiffs have long sought to appeal numerous erroneous earlier decisions. However, those efforts were stymied by the district court until this order disposing of the entire matter… We continue to believe that all our positions will be vindicated either in the 7th Circuit or the Supreme Court.” 

The OPC began construction in August of last year and is scheduled to be completed in 2025.

(1) comment

Ross Petersen

It is time for this judge Blakey to stand aside, and allow an appeal to go forward. In two different cases, you've had the Same judge come up with the same feeble excuses why the City can sell Jackson Park - for the princely sum of Ten dollars. He is oblivious to laws that protect, preserve our Parks.

This building is an eyesore, and it should be Reduced, in height.

Artists renderings of the project have understated the actual height of the OPC.

A backdoor effort by the U of C to gentrify Woodlawn and South Shore.

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