A federal judge ruled Tuesday that a lawsuit filed by a rights group hoping to put an end to the construction of the $ 500 million presidential center of former president Barack Obama, in the neighborhood south of Chicago, could take place.
US District Judge John Robert Blakey, who was appointed to the federal judiciary by Obama in 2014, ruled that Protect Our Parks had the right to sue the city because it represented taxpayers fearing that the fact to provide land to Jackson at Obama's center violated their due process. rights. The judge indicated that he did not wish the litigation to continue and that he would limit any fact gathering before trial to 45 days.
The proposed Jackson Park site is located eleven kilometers from downtown Chicago. He is close to low-income neighborhoods where Obama worked as a community organizer. It is 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.
Legal drama threatens construction of Obama's presidential center
The center would include 20 acres of a 500-acre park. Its centerpiece would be a 225-foot museum tower, surrounded by a cluster of smaller buildings, including a 300-seat auditorium. Proponents estimate that the project 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.
Protect our parks has accused the city of illegally transferring green space to the Obama private foundation, thus providing a valuable "pitch" to Chicago's favorite son. The group said city officials had manipulated the approval process and tinkered with legislation to circumvent long-standing laws designed to guarantee residents unobstructed access to lakeside parks.
"The defendants chose to treat this case in a classic way in Chicago (…) to deceive and apparently legitimize an illegal seizure on land," says the trial.
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 law on the aquarium and museums in Illinois to include presidential libraries as an exception to the no-development rules if the Public interest is compelling. The Chicago City Council approved the project by 47 votes to one in May.
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The Obama Foundation would donate $ 10 to the city for use of the park for 99 years, cover the construction costs of the complex and assume operating costs for 99 years. Once built, the physical structures of the Obama presidential center would be transferred free of charge to the city, which means that the city would officially own the center, but would not control what goes on there.
"They basically give [property] to Obama … for 10 cents a year for 99 years, "said Mark Roth, defense lawyer for parks.
In his decision on Tuesday, Mr. Blakey asserted that the first-time taxpayer's rights would be violated because tax money would be spent on reconfiguring roads and traffic. The prosecution argued that taxpayers would thereby subsidize any partisan political activity of Obama at the center.
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City lawyers conceded on Thursday that Chicago would pay about $ 175 million for reconfiguring roads to handle traffic around the center, but they also said Protect Our Parks had misinterpreted the law, misinterpreted the process of authorization and exaggerated the environmental disturbances.
The center was originally scheduled to open in 2021, although court work has not yet been completed. Some proponents of the project fear that a pending litigation will lead Obama to decide to build the center elsewhere.
Associated Press contributed to this report.