Construction has stalled on the Obama Presidential Library until at least 2019 while the federal government reviews a rental scheme that allowed the Obama Foundation to build its library in the middle of a historic park and around major streets on Chicago’s south side.
According to the Chicago Tribune, the Obama Foundation won’t give a specific timeline for construction, but expects to begin building in 2019, more than two years after the project was unveiled. The library campus, which includes a digital archive of President Barack Obama’s papers, meeting rooms, sports facilities, and a branch of the Chicago public library, is slated to open in 2021.
But before the Foundation can even break ground, the federal government must sign off on a city-approved land grant that gives the Foundation license to use part of a historic park — designed by Frederick Olmsted (the same man who designed New York City’s Central Park) and dating back to the close of the 19th century — and to close and reroute major streets.
The Foundation is technically “renting” the land from the City of Chicago for a nominal fee, something the park’s detractors — and there are many — say is a “sweetheart” deal, especially considering that the Obama Foundation could likely afford a higher payment, and that the library’s surrounding community could really use the cash.
Activists have held a number of protests against the library, demanding that Obama fulfill his much-talked-about commitment to Chicago’s lower-income communities. They want the city to pass an ordinance guaranteeing that 30% of all new residential construction around the library would be “affordable housing,” that the city institute a property tax freeze for homes and buildings surrounding the library, and that Obama create a trust fund to “support neighborhood schools.”
So far, Obama hasn’t agreed to any part of that deal.
The city is expected to hold a final public hearing on the projects at the end of the summer. The federal government will likely take up the park issue by the end of 2018.