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Federal review of Obama Library plan has some critics hopeful for revisions

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A host of proposed changes to historic Jackson Park will give federal officials a vital say in the project’s future


Starting this week, the evolving—and at times controversial—plan to build the Obama Presidential Center in the middle of Jackson Park will come under the review of the federal government. The additional oversight is triggered by proposed changes to Jackson Park which is included on the National Register of historic places. The 1871 Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux-designed greenspace was added to the list in 1974.

As proposed, the Obama Center’s multi-building campus will replace roughly 20 acres of park space, including a number of historic trees. Developed in tandem with a merger between Jackson Park’s golf course with the course at the South Shore Cultural Center, the plan looks to close stretches of Cornell and Marquette drives as well as construct a new parking structure in the center of the historic Midway Plaisance.

Obama Foundation

The Federal Highway Administration will lead an effort to review the plan under two laws. The first, The National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, calls for the federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation to issue a determination as to whether legitimate efforts are bing made to minimize adverse effects on the historic park. Meanwhile, the National Environmental Policy Act dictates the requirement of an environmental impact study that will consider factors such as air quality.

While a Chicago City Hall spokesperson described the review process as “routine” in a report by the Chicago Sun-Times, the addition of outside agencies and fresh eyes could potentially help the causes of neighbors and watchdog organizations hoping to see the current plan for the Obama Presidential Center revised.

The review process will commence with a public hearing scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday at the South Shore YMCA at 6330 S. Stony Island Avenue. Additional meetings are anticipated to take place as part of the transformative project’s federally-mandated oversight process.