CHICAGO (AP) – A federal judge on Tuesday gave a go-ahead for a park advocacy group to permanently stop the late construction of the $ 500 million presidential center. former President Barack Obama in a Chicago park on Lake Michigan.
Proponents of the project had hoped that the court would accept a motion from the city to reject the Protect Our Parks trial, with some fearing that a protracted litigation might cause Obama to decide to build Obama's presidential center somewhere other than his hometown.
A lawsuit filed by another group in 2016 helped sabotage a $ 400 million plan by Star Wars creator George Lucas to build a museum on public land on Lake Chicago. This museum is currently under construction in Los Angeles.
Judge John Robert Blakey heard arguments last week regarding the city's motion to dismiss. Blakey had thrown part of the complaint in his decision on Tuesday, but found that the group had the right to sue because it represents taxpayers fearing that providing a park in public trust at the Obama Center violates their due process rights.
Blakey's decision does not mean that the group will necessarily prevail at the end, but confirms that the lawsuit poses a formidable threat to the project. The judge indicated that he did not want the litigation to continue and would strictly limit any collection of facts leading to a 45-day trial.
"We are delighted that the court has rejected some of the applications and made it clear that the proceedings would progress quickly," said Chicago society lawyer Ed Siskel. This is also the opinion of the Obama Foundation in its reaction in one sentence to Blakey's decision.
Blakey rejected the plaintiffs' assertion that their First Amendment rights would be violated if the tax money was used to build a building to promote the political interests of former President Barack Obama. The judge said that this issue could only be settled if or if the center really started promoting political causes.
He also rejected the complainants' allegation of cosmetic and environmental damage to Jackson Park, claiming that they had not explained how they would be specifically injured and therefore had no right to sue that question.
The plans call for the construction of the Jackson Park Center, which was named in honor of President Andrew Jackson, site of the Chicago World Fair in 1893. The site, located 11 kilometers south of downtown Chicago is close to low-income neighborhoods. Obama worked as a community organizer and is just a few blocks from the University of Chicago, where Obama was a law professor. He is also close to the house where the Obama lived until his accession to the presidency in 2008.
The center was originally scheduled to open in 2021, although the floor has not yet been restored due to ongoing litigation.
In our 2018 action, Protect Our Parks accused the city of illegally transferring park lands to a private entity, the Obama Foundation, as a "gift" of prized land to a favorite Chicago son. The group said city officials manipulated the approval process and tinkered with legislation to circumvent long-standing laws designed to guarantee residents unhindered access to lakeside parks.
"The defendants chose to treat him in a classic way in Chicago … to deceive and apparently legitimize illegal land grabbing," the lawsuit says.
To make the park available for the project, the Chicago Park District first sold the land to the city for $ 1. Illinois lawmakers have amended the Illinois Aquarium and Museums Act to include presidential libraries as an exception to the non-development rules if the public interest is compelling. The Chicago City Council approved the project by 47 votes to one in May.
The Obama Foundation, a private non-profit organization, would pay the city $ 10 for use of the park for 99 years, cover the construction costs of the complex and pay the operating costs for 99 years. Once built, the physical structures of the Obama Presidential Center would be transferred free of charge to the city, meaning that the city would officially own the center, but would not control what goes on there.
"They basically give (to the property) to Obama … 10 cents a year for 99 years," said Mark Roth, defense advocate for parks.
According to a legal expert, Richard Epstein, in a court memoir, the doctrine of public trust imposes on the authorities an additional burden of proving the enormous benefits of the public when they offer the use from public parks to well-connected figures like Obama, who remains extremely popular in the highly democratic city. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has already served as Obama's White House Chief of Staff.
The complaint of the First Amendment struck off trial by Judge Blakey mentioned the tax money that would be used to reconfigure the roads and traffic. The prosecution argued that taxpayers would thereby subsidize any partisan political activity of Obama at the center.
City lawyers conceded Thursday that Chicago would pay about $ 175 million for reconfiguring roads to handle traffic around the center.
The lawsuit also claims that the center would interfere with the migration of butterflies and birds.
City lawyers said Protect Our Parks had misinterpreted the law, misinterpreted the approval process and exaggerated the environmental disruption.
The center would consist of 20 acres (8 hectares) of the 500-acre (202-hectare) park. Its centerpiece would be a 69-meter museum tower, surrounded by a cluster of smaller buildings, including a 300-seat auditorium.
City lawyers said it would provide a major economic boost to poor local minority communities. The founders estimate that this would create 5,000 jobs during construction and more than 2,500 permanent jobs. It is estimated that 760,000 people could visit each year.