women's garden

A composite image looking to the west across the Women’s Garden in Jackson Park that has been proposed as part of the Obama Presidential Center (OPC) campus. This area has been proposed as the staging area for construction of the OPC and will be rebuilt with design changes after construction of the main area of the OPC campus. 

The final Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) in the Section 106 process was signed by all the required agencies yesterday, formally putting an end to one of the federal reviews of the Obama Presidential Center (OPC) in Jackson Park. 

The MOA seeks to alleviate the adverse effects that the construction of the OPC will have on areas of Jackson Park, the Midway Plaisance and the city’s park boulevard system. 

A final version was released in November, but a trio of agencies were required to sign off on the MOA before the Section 106 process was officially complete: the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the Illinois State Historic Preservation Office, and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP). 

The ACHP was the final agency to sign the document, doing so yesterday. 

The mitigation measures in the final MOA include the rehabilitation of the Statue of the Republic and the English Comfort Station, as well as documentation of resources on the Midway Plaisance and in Jackson Park, particularly around the future site of the OPC.

The FHWA also released the final version of the separate Section 4(f) evaluation today, which outlines the use of parkland in the project. The evaluation found that there was “no feasible and prudent” alternative to the proposed roadway improvements. 

But there is still one more federal review process — conducted under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) — that must finish before the OPC can actually be built. (There are also other issues, like utility updates that need to be conducted by the Chicago Park District.)

The next step in the NEPA process will be either a finding of “no significant impact,” in which case that review would also end, or a decision that an Environmental Impact Statement must be written.

At a meeting of the Jackson Park Advisory Council (JPAC) on Monday, Dec. 14, an official with the Obama Foundation, the nonprofit responsible for building the OPC, said that the group expected a decision on NEPA near “the end of January.”

“We don’t know what the decision will be. We hope that it’s a finding of no significant impact. But it could be a finding of some impact in which case the regulatory review continues,” said Jamie-Clare Flaherty, who serves as Director of Strategic Initiatives at the Obama Foundation. “But our hope is that we’re cleared for a groundbreaking pretty soon.”


Christian Belanger graduated from the University of Chicago in 2017. He has previously written for South Side Weekly, Chicago magazine and the Chicago Reader.

(3) comments

Ross Petersen

Significant reviews of this project remain underway. An Environmental Impact Statement needs to be done, and they need to resolve litigation, now on appeal.

Before they can break ground, they need to raise funds adequate for construction, and endowment. One Billion dollars needs to be raised, before they can build this.

This is an edifice, an outsized memorial. It does Not belong in the Park.


This is a shame. His name will be tarnished for the inept handling of this..... HOW did they approve the closing of Cornell Drive? I am filing a FOIA to get to the bottom of it. They get the park land and close a major artery of traffic to fee the business on the near south end of the neighborhood. Shameful! Leaving us with traffic jams and no way to access the park. They don't care about the residents!

Ross Petersen

I would encourage anyone with an interest in Park preservation to join in the movement to Move the OPC Out of Jackson Park. This would include the groups Protect Our Parks, or Jackson Park Watch. This plan defaces our Park with a huge, windowless building, 23 stories tall. Yes, citizens are unhappy. We need to organize against this, it's a boondoggle that robs us of the Park. They did Not consider the environment, in these plans.

Chicagoans identify with the Lakefront, the Parks that line it. These Parks must be preserved for generations to come.

Benefits coming from an OPC Do Not require that the Park be plowed up. There is more than enough land adjacent to, not inside of, Any Park.

They Still need to do an Environmental Impact Statement on this. Many obstacles remain. We need to organize opposition.

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