On Wednesday, state and local officials including Gov. Pritzker and Mayor Lightfoot assembled in Jackson Park to announce the start of preliminary construction work on the Obama Presidential Center.
Although groundbreaking on the center itself isn't expected until the latter part of the year, pre-construction work—such as relocating utility lines plus the closing and widening of several adjacent roadways—is a key step in the process.
"The set of investments we are making in tandem with the development of the Obama Presidential Center will not only help to kickstart our economy, but spur the inclusive economic growth we need to rise above this pandemic by uplifting our historic South Side," Lightfoot said in a statement.
In a tweet, former President Barack Obama said that he and his wife Michelle are "thrilled to be one step closer" to bringing the project to Chicago's South Side. "I'm looking forward to grabbing a hard hat and a shovel and officially breaking ground in Jackson Park in the fall," said Obama in a video released Wednesday.
However, the same day that officials marked the start of preliminary construction work, nonprofit group Protect Our Parks filed a fresh lawsuit aimed at blocking construction.
The group was behind an earlier lawsuit challenging the legality of handing over parkland to a private entity such as the Obama Foundation, and its latest legal complaint makes a similar argument.
The new suit also alleges that the center will "permanently destroy" the integrity of Jackson Park, and that the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review completed earlier this year was in violation of federal laws.
"It seems to me that the obvious resolution is just to require a reconsideration that considers alternative locations," Protect Our Parks president Herb Caplan told the Hyde Park Herald. "In other words, just do the entire NEPA review all over again, but not limiting it solely to considering Jackson Park, but considering other locations."
In a statement reported by the Chicago Tribune, the Obama Foundation said it was "prepared to vigorously defend against this lawsuit" and that the organization still anticipates "groundbreaking in the fall of this year."
Designed by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects, the Obama Presidential Center includes a 235-foot-tall museum building, a new Chicago Public Library branch, an athletic facility, an underground parking garage, a plaza, and a community garden.
Zoning for the controversial development was approved by the city in 2018. At that time, the center's organizers said they planned to break ground that year. Already delayed at least three years, the center is expected to take four years to complete.