Chicago (AFP) – A federal lawsuit is seeking to block the construction of the Obama presidential center on Chicago parkland, posing a challenge for the future library and museum dedicated to the nation’s first African-American president.
The lawsuit by a local park preservation group objects to the transfer of a historic public park for use by Barack Obama’s foundation to build a complex in the Midwestern city — one of a network of presidential libraries throughout the country.
Chicago has a system of public parks that are protected by law from private use and development. A similar legal challenge doomed a planned museum on another parcel of publicly-owned land in Chicago by Star Wars creator George Lucas.
The local group Protect Our Parks filed the federal lawsuit Monday, seeking to prevent the transfer of Jackson Park — created for the 1893 World’s Fair — to the foundation preparing to build The Obama Presidential Center.
Because The Center is not planning to house original documents from the Obama presidency, instead opting for digital access to those documents which will be housed elsewhere, the lawsuit alleges the planned structure serves no significant public purpose.
“Although that original purpose of an official Presidential Library no longer exists,” the lawsuit complaint says, “Defendants continue to forge ahead to advance a totally different private nongovernmental project on public parkland.”
A Chicago city official responded by accusing the park preservation group of standing “in the way of progress” for impoverished communities in the south side of the city, where Obama first entered politics.
“The Obama Presidential Center is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to invest hundreds of millions of dollars that will create good jobs on the South Side,” city spokesman Grant Klinzman said in a statement.
A nationwide network of 15 presidential libraries maintain the archives of various US administrations in partnership with the National Archives and Records Administration.
The Obama Center, like several of the other institutions, plans to include replicas of the Oval Office and other elements from the Obama White House, as well as featuring Obama’s history-making path to the presidency.
The former president has said he wants the complex to be a meeting point for local communities, as well as a training ground for future leaders.