Jackson Park Watch Update – January 30, 2019

Greetings, all.   

Despite all the distractions offered by cold weather and local and national politics, the myriad questions surrounding the controversial plans for the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park, along with all the related discretionary, tax-payer-funded roadwork, continue to be out there and in need of attention.

The federal review process appears to be on deep hold.  Nothing has happened since the September 17, 2018 meeting hosted by the National Park Service.  No more meetings are scheduled until “early 2019.”

The Protect Our Parks federal lawsuit, meanwhile, is alive and well.  The defendants, the City and the Chicago Park District, are doing everything possible to get the suit dismissed at the next hearing, February 14.  We continue to believe that the lawsuit raises key issues about the propriety of using historic public parkland for what is, in the end, a private venture, and hope that the POP charges will be given a full review.  To that end, we partnered with Preservation Chicago to submit a friend of the court brief to make two points:  first, that the argument put forth by the City and Park District (and Obama Foundation) that there is a Chicago tradition of building museums in public parks is factually inaccurate; second, that the status of the eleven museums now situated in Chicago parks is not threatened by the POP challenge to the OPC.

You can review the contents of the Preservation Chicago/JPW brief plus two other important briefs supporting the POP suit in this good summary by The Cultural Landscape Foundation.  The full texts of the briefs are accessible via the JPW website.

You may also enjoy the coverage of the lawsuit in the recent issue of the Chicago Reader.


Even if the lawsuit were to be dismissed on February 14, the federal review process is far from over and key issues remain to be resolved.  We are in need of funds to continue our work. Checks made out to Jackson Park Watch can be sent to Jackson Park Watch, P.O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615.

We thank you.

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid
Co-presidents, Jackson Park Watch


Jackson Park Watch Update – January 16, 2019

Greetings, all,   

You haven’t heard from us for a time but, beyond taking a break for the holidays, we have been very busy.  The result?  A “friends of the court” amicus brief filed yesterday jointly with Preservation Chicago in relationship to the Protect Our Parks lawsuit.  See below for an excerpt from a press release announcing our brief and two others also filed on Tuesday, all arguing against the City and Park District’s motion to dismiss the POP lawsuit. We continue to believe that the lawsuit raises important issues that deserve a complete public hearing.

We gave considerable thought to taking this step.  While raising many questions, we have not actually opposed locating the OPC in Jackson Park.  Rather we have argued that if Cornell Drive and the Midway Plaisance were kept open with the modifications proposed in our traffic study proposal, much less damage would be done to the historic park and the Olmsted design with better traffic outcomes.  (Note that Obama Foundation officials have twice told us they would build the OPC in Jackson Park even if Cornell were kept open.)  The 235’-tall  Obama museum tower could be modified to better fit with Jackson Park; rather than clear-cutting the site, the designers could situate right-sized buildings among the mature trees.  However, the fact that the “myth” of building museums in Chicago parks is not only totally inaccurate but would pave the way for confiscating much more parkland for other uses prompted us to work with Preservation Chicago on this brief so as to set the record straight.  No one benefits from making an important public policy decision on the basis of false information.

You will find the full texts of all of the briefs and updated information about the suit on the JPW  website.  We hope you will read our brief in full; we also recommend Lynn Sweet’s coverage in the Sun-Times.  

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Briefs rebut claims made by Defendants in Motion to Dismiss Protect our Parks lawsuit

Chicago, IL (January 15, 2019) – Three “friends of the court” (amici curiae) briefs were filed today in Federal Court concerning a lawsuit by Protect Our Parks, Inc. (POP) that challenges the legality of using some 19.3 acres of Jackson Park for the site of the Obama Presidential Center (OPC) (Case No. 18-cv-3424: Protect Our Parks, Inc. v. Chicago Park District and City of Chicago)

  • The Preservation Chicago and Jackson Park Watch brief rebuts the claim of a “tradition” of building museums in Chicago’s public parks;
  • Professor Richard Epstein, with the University of Chicago and New York University Law Schools, asserts the taking of parkland for the OPC violates the public trust doctrine and merits stricter scrutiny; and
  • The Cultural Landscape Foundation in Washington, D.C. says building the OPC would result in irrevocably harming the nationally significant park, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

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In the meantime, our funding balance has been much depleted by our recent work, and the end is nowhere in sight.  We are in need of funds to help sustain our work.  If you have questions about making a contribution, let us know at jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com.  Checks made out to Jackson Park Watch can be sent to Jackson Park Watch, P.O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615.  We thank you.

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid
Co-presidents, Jackson Park Watch