The Obama Foundation is urging the federal district court to deny Protect Our Parks’ request to block groundbreaking of the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park while the nonprofit group’s new lawsuit to block the center’s construction there is heard in court.
In their brief, the plaintiffs note that construction is ready to start on Aug. 16 and that the OPC is scheduled to open in fall 2025, more than nine years after Obama chose Jackson Park for his presidential center and his presidency itself ended.
The Obama Foundation argues that Protect Our Parks is arguing identical state law challenges to the OPC as it did in its previous lawsuit. The foundation argues that POP can't establish that their lawsuit will succeed, and they can't establish that they will suffer irreparable harm while the court decides the lawsuit.
Protect Our Parks’ new lawsuit argues that government agencies mishandled reviews in approving the OPC approval process, specifically by not considering altogether different locations for the OPC, such as in the Washington Park neighborhood.
In the motion, the Obama Foundation calls those arguments meritless, writing, "Plaintiffs’ federal law claims largely contend that the federal agencies should somehow have displaced municipal decision-making processes and forced relocation of the Presidential Center despite the limited scope of the federal review."
Furthermore, the Obama Foundation argues that the plaintiffs — Protect Our Parks and six other individuals — cannot demonstrate any irreparable harm that they will suffer should the OPC be built. Any effect on the park's trees, the designs of landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, wildlife, recreation and roadways, the plaintiffs say, were already recognized by federal authorities in their reviews.
The foundation argues that an order blocking OPC construction "will impose substantial and irreparable harms on the foundation," which "has devoted many tens of millions of dollars and countless staff hours to planning for the Presidential Center, engaging with the neighboring communities, participating in the robust local and federal review processes, and raising hundreds of millions of dollars in private donations necessary to construct the Presidential Center."
The defendants argue that, no matter how long an injunction is in place, the delay to the construction schedule would last longer, given the complexity of the project timeline due to the changing seasons, contractor availability, the need to avoid cutting down trees during six months out of a year to protect migrating birds and federal requirements for museums holding artifacts.
“For example,” the foundation writes, “the schedule calls for excavation to occur after September 1, once the six-month moratorium on tree-cutting is over, but to be completed in time for the initial below-grade and foundational work to begin before Chicago winter hits; attempting to do that work when the ground is frozen would, at a minimum, create very substantial delay and be much more costly."
Any delays would cascade. Costs could expand at a minimum by $2.2 million per month delayed or expanded, the foundation estimates.
While POP has argued that the OPC can be built in Washington Park, the foundation points out that those investments "have been dedicated to building the Presidential Center in Jackson Park — and cannot be transposed to any other site."
The foundation lastly says that delaying construction harms contractors who have lined up to work on the OPC's precise schedule, and the foundation argues that it would imperil their mission to draw economic investment to communities around Jackson Park, "because any uncertainty as to the Presidential Center’s opening may drive investment away."
Several amici curiae also filed briefs in support of the Obama Foundation. Sixty community organizations, leaders and members jointly submitted one detailing support for the OPC in their communities. The University of Chicago submitted one noting the ways the South Side and university community would benefit from the center.
The Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago, the Chicago Urban League and the Chicago Community Trust filed one explaining the importance of the OPC in terms of Chicago's civic makeup and the ways the city would be harmed if it is further delayed.
And 16 Chicagoland museums, including the DuSable Museum of African American History, 740 E. 56th Place, and the Museum of Science and Industry, 5700 S. du Sable Lake Shore Drive, wrote to express their support their the OPC in Jackson Park, noting that the region "has a rich tradition of world-class museums, including in public parkland."