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Lawsuit seeking to block Obama center construction in Chicago's Jackson Park is dismissed

Lolly Bowean, Chicago Tribune on

Published in News & Features

CHICAGO -- In a surprising move, a federal judge ruled Tuesday that the city of Chicago was within its authority when it approved the Obama Foundation's plan to construct the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park.

After listening to nearly an hour of arguments on both sides, U.S. Judge John Robert Blakey said the construction to the sprawling Obama center campus can begin and dismissed the lawsuit filed by environmentalists that aimed to halt it.

Technically, the foundation still has to finish a federal review process before it can break ground on the $500 million development. But Tuesday's decision removed one major hurdle.

"The facts are clear in this case and the law is more settled than the parties are suggesting," Blakey said from the bench.

"Everyone's had their day in court. ... There's been no rush to judgment," he said before declaring there should be "no delay in construction. This case is dismissed."

Blakey said he would issue a more detailed, written decision later Tuesday afternoon.

 

The decision culminates a yearlong court battle between a group of environmentalists and the city of Chicago over where the Obama Presidential Center should be built.

The leaders of Protect Our Parks want the center relocated from the public lakefront park to a privately owned lot further southwest. In court the group's attorney, Mark Roth, told the judge that the city essentially gave the 19.3-acre sliver of Jackson Park to the Obama Foundation, which violated the public trust doctrine.

Roth argued that the city didn't evaluate whether other properties were a better it and allowed the foundation to dictate where it would build.

But Michael Scodro, who represented the city, pushed against that argument. He said essentially the public trust doctrine the environmentalists were leaning on was being wrongly interpreted. He went on to say that the foundation submitted an application to build in Jackson Park, city officials evaluated it and approved.

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