More than three years after he left the White House, Barack Obama’s Presidential Center has hit another roadblock on its long path to construction. Approval for the center—which is set in Chicago’s leafy Jackson Park and slated to cost some $500 million—is facing a new delay following a demand by the Illinois State Historic Preservation Office (HPO) for “additional design reviews.” The reviews come as part of the Federal Highway Administration’s larger approval process, which is nearing its end.
The HPO is a relatively little-known state agency whose purview, reports public television channel WTTW, includes evaluating construction projects that may impact “cultural resources” in the state of Illinois. The HPO’s main concern is the center’s potential impact on Jackson Park itself, a verdant 500-acre expanse which debuted in 1893 for Chicago’s now legendary World’s Fair and was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, who’s also responsible for Central Park in New York City.
The center, which is being designed by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects, has been heavily criticized for its proposed destruction of a connection zone linking Jackson Park with nearby Midway Plaisance Park.
Indeed, so great is this worry that those critical of the center—such as local watchdog groups Jackson Park Watch and Protect Our Parks—have even suggested that the complex be entirely relocated out of Jackson Park to a new site on Chicago’s South Side. “I’m all in favor of this investment on the South Side,” Protect Our Parks president Herb Caplan told the Chicago Tribune last year after his group filed a lawsuit to relocate the center from Jackson Park. “I’ve argued that the South Side would be better served if the OPC were built in another community like Woodlawn and South Shore.”
Beyond the legal maneuvers, the relocation option has been supported by prominent civic associations such as the Cultural Landscape Foundation. The opposition has also made its way to Washington, D.C., since the park and nearby boulevard are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The City of Chicago has recently said that relocating the Center is not a viable option.
The new HPS wrinkle has created a monthlong delay for a large-scale Memorandum of Agreement, overseen by the Federal Highway Administration, that was supposed to be presented to “consulting parties” last month. The meeting will now take place on July 16, at which time measures to mitigate the center’s impact on Jackson Park should be revealed.
While it’s too soon to gauge whether such measures will calm HPO’s worries, even if they’re dismissed, the center must still contend with the Protect Our Park’s pending lawsuit to stop it from being built on public parkland. For these activist groups, the goal is not to merely “mitigate” the center’s potential impact, but to avoid it entirely. With the delayed meeting merely days away, the center’s next move—and possible fate—will soon be revealed.
Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest