Model of revised design released in January 2018.
James Ewing Model of revised design released in January 2018.

Yesterday Illinois judge John Robert Blakey ruled in favor of an advocacy group that filed suit against the City of Chicago in an attempt to block the Obama Foundation from constructing its highly-anticipated Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park along Lake Michigan. According to lawsuit filed in 2018, a group incorporated as Protect Our Parks believes that the City illegally transferred the park land to the Obama Foundation, which is a private entity. Blakey's ruling finds that Protect Our Parks can stand to sue, however, the decision has no bearing on the outcome of a the suit.

"Defendants have chosen to deal with it in a classic Chicago political way, known as a short con shell game, a corrupt scheme to deceive and seemingly legitimize an illegal land grab, one that will endure for centuries to come, regardless of future changing public park needs and increasingly consequential environmental conditions," the suit reads.

According to the Associated Press, the Chicago Park District sold the land to the city for $1. The city then amended the Illinois Aquarium and Museum Act to allow for the construction of a presidential library on the land that was otherwise subject to a no-development rule. The Obama Foundation agreed to pay $10 to the city for use of the land for 99 years in addition to covering the cost of construction and operation of the center during that time. The foundation committed to transferring ownership of the structures to the city upon completion for free.

“The Obama Foundation and the University of Chicago created this controversy by insisting on the confiscation of public parkland,” said Charles Birnbaum, president and CEO of the Cultural Landscape Foundation—which filed a friend of the court brief in support of Protect Our Parks—in a press release. “The Obama Foundation could make this issue go away by using vacant and/or city-owned land on the South Side for the Obama Presidential Center (which is planned to be a private facility rather than a presidential library administered by the National Archives), or, better still, land owned by the University of Chicago, which submitted the winning bid to host the Center.”

Initially developed for the 1893 World's Fair, Jackson Park occupies 500 acres on the South Side of Chicago bordering Lake Michigan and the University of Chicago. In 2014 the land was embroiled in another lawsuit that dashed plans for a $400 million museum proposed by "Star Wars" creator George Lucas. In that case, organizers decided to pursue other sites instead of awaiting a judgment.

Per the latest designs for the Obama Presidential Center released in January 2018 by New York–based Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects|Partners with local firm Interactive Design Architects, the center is slated to cover fewer than 20 acres and will include an art museum, classrooms, labs, and a public plaza.

While the decision puts the future of the $500 million center in question, Blakey did toss out portions of the suit stating the group does not stand to sue “based upon aesthetic or environmental harm" of the project according to a Chicago Tribune article.

The Obama Foundation responded to the decision in a statement to ARCHITECT. "As we have said before, we believe the lawsuit is without merit. We are confident that our plan for the Obama Presidential Center is consistent with Chicago's rich tradition of locating world-class museums in its parks, and we look forward to developing a lasting cultural institution on the South Side."