(CN) — A public parks activist group filed a federal lawsuit Monday to prevent the Obama Presidential Center from being built in Chicago’s historic Jackson Park.
Protect Our Parks, Inc. and three of the city’s longtime residents are suing the Chicago Park District and the city of Chicago for deceptively taking over coveted lakefront land for $1, then transferring the property to the Obama Foundation for the construction of a presidential center, rather than a presidential library.
The city’s transfer of the long term lease to a private, nongovernmental foundation is in violation of due process, in breach of public trust and an “institutional bait and switch”, according to the 33-page lawsuit.
Last May, the Obamas publically announced there had been a change in plans, as the building would not house the official presidential records under the National Archives and Records Administration’s supervision. Instead, the newly renamed Obama Presidential Center would be a “privately owned, managed and operated” campus featuring a museum, public meeting spaces and an athletic center.
The plaintiffs, represented by Mark Roth and Robert Fioretti, argue that this project represents “a short con shell game, a corrupt scheme to deceive and seemingly legitimize an illegal land grab.”
The $500 million privately funded campus, which could open as soon as 2021, will require attendees to buy admission tickets and pay parking fees. This was not the intended use of Jackson Park, which was explicitly dedicated to the people of the State of Illinois “as a public park…free to all persons forever,” according to the complaint.
Plaintiffs allege that if not stopped, Obama’s private foundation will have control over 19 acres of public land for not just decades, but centuries to come.
The city released a statement Monday saying that the lawsuit was standing in the way of the South Side’s progression.
“The Obama Presidential Center is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to invest hundreds of millions of dollars that will create good jobs on the South Side, bring our communities together and honor the legacy of Chicago’s favorite son and daughter. While some choose to stand in the way of progress for the South Side, we are focused on making progress in every community in Chicago,” according to the statement.
In a public meeting in February, Barack Obama said that the anticipated project will be beneficial for his city and the community.
“Twenty years from now, I want young people from across the South Side… To look at this center and say, “This is a sign that I count. This is a sign I can change the world,” he said. “That is more important than any legacy I can ever have.”