Barack Obama continued a push to build support for his presidential center on Chicago’s lakefront on Friday, urging business leaders in the city to get involved with the project.
The former president announced his choice of Jackson Park on the city’s South Side in 2016 but construction for the $500 million project had been delayed because of a federal review needed in the historic parkland. The review started in 2017 and recently concluded.
Chicago officials announced in April that preliminary work at the property was underway, even as activists filed another lawsuit seeking to force its relocation to protect the surrounding environment.
Richard Epstein, an attorney for the plaintiffs in that case, said he believes they have a “strong chance of prevailing.”
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“The Obama strategy, which I do not approve of, is to simply ignore the lawsuit and take step after step to indicate it’s a done deal,” he said. “We are confident when the case goes to trial, we will win on every relevant point.”
There has been no significant movement in the case this spring.
Obama and Valerie Jarrett, president of the Obama Foundation, on Friday told members of the Economic Club of Chicago that the center is intended to bring attention, jobs and visitors to the city’s South Side, where former first lady Michelle Obama grew up and the former president began his political career.
“Our goal has been, how do we create an institution that not only is helping to promote the sort of civic engagement and progressive change that I believe happens when ordinary people just get involved in their communities,” Obama said. “But also how can we make this into something that helps bring Chicago together at a time when Chicago like much of the country sometimes feels divided.”
Obama also visited local businesses and a youth football team in the neighborhood earlier in the week to discuss the project.
Jarrett said Friday that officials are confident the Obama Presidential Center is on “solid legal footing” and on track for groundbreaking this fall.
The multi-building complex will sit on 19 acres of the 540-acre Jackson Park and include a museum, public library branch, athletic center, children’s play area and a test kitchen.