City, state and federal approvals are now underway for the Obama Presidential Center, or OPC. That comes three years after the Obamas selected Jackson Park as the site for the project.
This week, a federal review found that construction of the OPC would have an “adverse effect” on Jackson Park and the Midway Plaisance.
The Federal Highway Administration conducted the report. Two reviews are pending for the OPC. One review falls under the scope of the National Historic Preservation Act (Section 106). It examines the impact on historic properties, and the other is under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which is looking at the effects on the environment.
Jackson Park is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Adverse effects can be direct or indirect and “include impacts such as physical damage, changes to the character of properties use or introduction of incompatible visual, atmospheric, or audible elements,” according to the Chicago Department of Planning and Development.
The outcome of the report does not mean the project will be halted, but that city agencies and consulting parties will work together to identify ways to avoid, minimize, or mitigate any adverse effects.
When asked Tuesday whether she would force the Obama Foundation to make changes it’s been reluctant to make, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said, “I don’t think I should force anybody to do anything, but I will strongly weigh in about the need to engage community members about the remaining issues that they’re concerned about.”
At least 30 other buildings in the surrounding area of the OPC would not be impacted by the center’s development, according to the report.
“We appreciate the exhaustive and thoughtful process undertaken by the federal agencies to study impacts of the federal actions on surrounding historic properties,” said an Obama Foundation spokesperson by email. “Jackson Park is a majestic place with a rich history that we have embraced throughout our design process. We look forward to hearing from the community about ways we can continue to work together to honor the history of Jackson Park and bring the Obama Presidential Center to Chicago’s South Side.”
Proposed park changes along with roadway changes within the bounds of Jackson Park require a federal-level environmental review under the NEPA as well as consultation under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act.
The city has conducted its review and approval processes that include construction, management and operation of the center. No other city review is required. There are, however, state approvals that are needed as a part of the federal review process.
The Section 106 process is expected to be completed late this year, and the NEPA process is expected to be completed by next spring. Construction of the OPC will begin once both federal processes are complete. Groundbreaking for the OPC is anticipated for April 2020.
There will be a 30-day public comment period for the public to weigh in on the report. Written comments on the report will be accepted until Friday, Aug. 30.
For more information visit the website of the Chicago Department of Planning and Development.
Joining us to discuss the center’s future are Ghian Foreman, president and CEO of Emerald South Economic Development Collaborative; and David Stovall, professor of African American studies and criminology, law and justice at the University of Illinois at Chicago.