Jackson Park Watch Update – March 30, 2019

Greetings, all!

There have been a variety of interesting developments.  We note them below.   

Major grant to Protect Our Parks

Of great interest is the $100,000 grant given to Protect Our Parks by the Reva and David Logan Foundation to help fund its lawsuit against the City of Chicago and Chicago Park District.  That lawsuit concerns the siting of the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park.  The fact that this was described as an “initial” grant makes it even more significant.

In the statement announcing the grant, Logan Foundation board chairman Richard Logan commented “We believe that this ‘land grab’ is both legally and morally wrong, and that the City of Chicago, the Obama Foundation and their partners need to reconsider their choice of location for this project.  There are so many sites in the city that could benefit from the kudos, the opportunities for employment and the neighborhood regeneration without taking public land and destroying historic city parklands.”

The Logan Foundation funded the construction of the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts at the University of Chicago (915 E. 60th St.)  The architects who designed the Logan Center, Tod Williams and Billie Tsein, were chosen by the Obama Foundation to design the OPC.

POP lawsuit progresses

Despite prodding by federal Judge John R. Blakey, wrangling between the Protect Our Parks’ small legal team and the City’s stable of lawyers about the release of documents and the taking of depositions continues as the City has employed the classic technique of “running out the clock” on the period allowed for discovery.  In the last week, however, the City has produced several sets of documents, now under review. 

JPW is assisting with document review.  One fun find:  the City and Obama Foundation have repeatedly asserted that Cornell Drive was originally designed by Olmsted as a “bridle path,” with the implication that it was narrow and the pace slow. To the contrary, in the Sam Schwartz Engineering traffic studies conducted for the Obama Foundation in 2015, we found this: “The streets within the park were originally designed to allow horse and buggies to easily traverse through them. This design provided excess space for modern vehicles, which has led to vehicles using these streets to speed through the park.”

Obama Foundation documents reviewed

Because of the discovery requirements set forth by Judge Blakey, the Obama Foundation has also released a new set of documents relating to its selection of the Jackson Park site under the not-too-subtle banner of “Jackson Park: The Right Choice.”

We encourage you to take a look at the 2014 analysis of the proposals received by the Obama Foundation as it ramped up preparations for the Obama Presidential Center (then Library).  Even more interesting is the 2016 analysis by U3Advisors of the economic impact, risks, and opportunities of locating the OPC in either Washington Park or Jackson Park/Woodlawn. 

Both analyses demonstrated that the Washington Park location was at least as favorable as the Jackson Park/Woodlawn location.  They also make it clear that one decisive difference was the relative risk and difficulty of the task:  The Jackson Park location was the safe choice, with well-established partner organizations ready to help out (MSI, Apostolic Church of God, for example, in addition to the University).  On the other hand, while the Washington Park location was considerably more aligned with the Obama Foundation’s claim to be engaged in community development and transformation, no such partner organizations were already on hand and having to serve as the main engine of change single-handedly posed a far more difficult set of challenges. One might suggest that, rather than the “right” choice, Jackson Park was the “safe” choice.

Also of interest is the economic impact study  completed in 2016 but now released in full for the first time.  Relying on projections of visits to the OPC as well as potential developments and events that may or may not materialize, it can best be considered aspirational.

Interesting commentary

For those inclined to more reading and a more measured assessment, we recommend the fine Next City commentary on the likely impacts of the Obama Presidential Center on Chicago’s South Side.  It takes a somewhat new and very useful look at the voices and issues involved.


Thanks to all who have recently offered financial support.  As always, we welcome your contributions.  Checks made out to Jackson Park Watch can be sent to directly to Jackson Park Watch, P.O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615.  Checks from donor-directed funds should be sent to our fiscal sponsor Friends of the Parks at FOTP, 17 N. State St., Suite 1450, Chicago 60602.  Such checks should be made out to FOTP with a note stating they are intended for Jackson Park Watch. 

As always, we thank you.

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

Jackson Park Watch Update – March 12, 2019


Greetings, all:   

City stonewalling in Protect Our Parks lawsuit?

The Protect Our Parks lawsuit hearing originally set for Thursday, March 7, was cancelled as POP’s attorney continued to exchange communications with the City and the Park District while pushing for discovery documents that Judge John R. Blakey has directed them to produce. Protect Our Parks has sued the City and Chicago Park District over the siting of the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park.  POP supports siting the OPC on Chicago’s south side, but not in a public park. 

At the February 27 hearing, Judge John R. Blakey had granted most of the POP’s requests related to discovery.  The City was directed to produce documents related to projected costs of the OPC, to traffic and environmental analyses, and to an analysis of the financial benefits to the Obama Foundation deriving from the OPC. Over objections from the City, Judge Blakey also told the defendants to identify a City official to be deposed by the plaintiffs with regard to the discovery documents.  He also left open the possibility of additional depositions in the future.  

To date the City has not produced any documents and continues to insist that all POP requests are unreasonable, beyond the scope of what the Judge directed, immaterial and irrelevant, and the like.  Likewise, the City is stonewalling POP’s request to name an official to be deposed. The Park District positions echo whatever the City says.

Stonewalling is a classic tactic, especially in a David v. Goliath situation such as this.  We might expect that the City will withhold documents until the last possible minute and will then deliver them all at once in a massive data dump, making it extremely difficult for the receiving legal team to review them in a timely manner.  Resistance to the court-approved deposition is also par for the course. 

We will continue to follow the situation and will keep you posted.  In the meantime, Judge Blakey has not changed the previously set date of April 19 for the close of discovery, a very tight timeline in any case.  Hearings in the lawsuit are now scheduled through May.

Push for OPC-linked Community Benefits Agreement advances

As reported in the Sun-Times, voters in parts of the 5th and 20th wards on Chicago’s South Side voted overwhelmingly on February 26 for a referendum to support a community benefits agreement in connection with the Obama Presidential Center.  The non-binding measure backed by close to 90% of the votes cast calls for a CBA along with a 30 percent set-aside for affordable housing, a property tax freeze, and funding for local jobs and affordable housing in the area surrounding the planned OPC.

While 5th ward incumbent alderman Leslie Hairston does not support a CBA, William Calloway, her opponent in the April 2 run-off, does.  Both of the two finalists in the aldermanic election runoff in the 20th ward, Jeanette Taylor and Nicole Johnson, support a CBA.

Additionally, both finalists in the hotly contested race for Chicago’s next mayor, Lori Lightfoot and Toni Preckwinkle, support a CBA.  Further, the Chicago Tribune editorialized in support of a CBA on March 1.

We’ll see whether other hard and fast positions start to change in the coming weeks and months.  As usual, stay tuned.

Obama’s self-curated story

Following up on the recent article in the New York Times examining the implications of the fact that the OPC would not be a presidential library, NPR’s On the Media series last week devoted an 18-minute segment to the further implications of this precedent-setting separation of the OPC from the National Archives Research Administration (NARA) – what it could mean for future museum-goers, future historians of the Obama presidency, access to unbiased accounts of presidential administrations, and future presidential museums (think Trump). We recommend it.

Interviews with Tim Naftali, former director of the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, and Louise Bernard, director of the OPC museum, highlight the challenges of having the OPC single-handedly curate its own story.  Naftali points out that numerous existing presidential museums, operated in tandem with NARA-managed libraries, have moved beyond focusing only on positives to examine controversial issues such as the internment of Japanese-Americans under FDR, Harry Truman’s decision to drop the hydrogen bomb on Hiroshima, and the Vietnam War under LBJ, raising questions as to whether the self-curated Obama Museum would discuss such issues as drone strikes and the “red line in the sand” edict to Syria.  Given the Obama Foundation’s lack of transparency on so many issues, Louise Bernard’s polished assurances may not seem reassuring. 

Update readers will recall that the documentary archives of the Obama administration, rather than being housed at the Obama Presidential Center and overseen there by NARA, will be held by NARA elsewhere, most likely in Kansas.  In a move hailed by some as reflecting a general trend toward electronic communications of all sorts, the Obama documents will be digitized at the Obama Foundation’s expense and made available online free of charge. Not incidentally, the decision to abandon the original plan for a customary presidential library, one subject to NARA regulations, saved the Obama Foundation significant amounts of money.

Intriguing suggestion

At a time when plans for the OPC are stuck in gridlock due to community resistance, the POP lawsuit, and the required federal reviews, a creative suggestion for breaking the deadlock was put forth in a recent letter to the Chicago Tribune: rename the Park for former President Obama; put up an Obama statue in the Park; relocate the OPC to the near neighborhood but off of public parkland; and let construction begin.  Kudos for out-of-the-box thinking on this!  We need more.


Thanks to all who have recently offered financial support.  As always, we welcome your support.  Checks made out to Jackson Park Watch can be sent to Jackson Park Watch, P.O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615.  Checks from funds that need to be processed by our fiscal sponsor Friends of the Parks can be sent to FOTP, 17 N. State St., Suite 1450, Chicago 60602.  The checks should be made out to FOTP with a note indicating they are intended for Jackson Park Watch. 

As always, we thank you.

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