Obama Presidential Center Costing Taxpayers $200M

Illinois taxpayers will be paying for the street and transportation projects around the Obama Presidential Center site which will cost a cool $199 million. Gov. Bruce Rauner signed into law the legislature’s budget, which included $174 million for road work in and around Jackson Park and another $50 million to renovate an above-ground rail stop two miles away.  The Obama Center project is still in the process of getting approvals, and a federal review is ongoing. A major local controversy has been over the proposed closing of Cornell Drive as it runs through Jackson Park.

Now there is a lawsuit that was filed on Monday, May 14 by “Protect Our Parks,” a nonprofit organization that seeks a court order to “bar the Park District and the City from approving the building of the Presidential Center and from conveying any interest in or control of the Jackson Park site to the Foundation.”

Protect Our Parks accuses the Chicago Park District of

  • Transferring public land to the Obama Foundation to house an official federal Obama Federal Library. (The center will not be his official library. Instead, the federal National Records and Archives Administration will run it in another location.)
  • They call Chicago’s plan to lease public park space an “illegal land grab.”
  • The transfer of park land to a non-governmental private entity violates the park district code
  • City officials are “prohibited by law” from turning over public park land to a non-governmental private entity for private use.

The Cultural Landscape Foundation, Friends of the Parks, Jackson Park Watch, Openlands, National Association for Olmsted Parks, Save the Midway, Landmarks Illinois, and Preservation Chicago, all of whom have concerns about the project, because it is being proposed at Jackson Park, a park that’s almost as old as New York City’s Central Park and could be built on private land.

The Obama Foundation claims that the center will support thousands of new jobs and have a total economic impact of $3.1 billion in its first 10 years. However, opponents doubt that the center will yield those benefits to local residents, and have expressed anger at the lack of a formal agreement with the local community. The center’s planners have yet to prove how it would stimulate the local economy without doing more damage to it.


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