Obama Center Breaks Pledge Not to Remove Trees in Jackson Park

This May 12, 2015 file photo shows Jackson Park in Chicago. President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama have selected Jackson Park on Chicago's South Side to build President Barack Obama's presidential library near the University of Chicago, where Obama once taught constitutional law, a personal familiar with the selection …
AP Photo/Paul Beaty File

The Obama Presidential Center has already started destroying dozens of age-old trees in Chicago’s Jackson Park, despite a pledge not to start removing trees until all legal paths are cleared.

The City of Chicago, the park district, and the Obama Center agreed to wait until a handful of lawsuits have developed before beginning preparations for construction, but the Chicago Sun-Times reports that the Obama Center’s promise has essentially been broken because the Chicago Park District has already begun destroying baseball diamonds and tearing out trees as part of the work associated with the Obama complex construction.

In January, the Obama Center promised that until the foundation had all permits secured and all lawsuits were satisfied, “there will be no trees removed or cut down.” But now, the Center claims that only the 19.3 acres upon which the center will sit is included in that promise, and the trees destroyed by the Park District are not on that acreage.

The Center’s claim is technically accurate. But the paper explains that the decades-old trees are being destroyed to make room for a track field that is being displaced by the impending construction of the Obama Center. One did not need to transpire without the other, so the moving of the track field is inextricably tied to the Obama Center, critics note.

The paper also points out that the Obama Center is impacting far and away more acreage and city facilities than just the area upon which the complex will eventually sit.

The Times wrote:

Since former President Barack Obama picked Jackson Park for his center in August 2016, a series of intertwined projects in and around Jackson Park has made the impact much larger than just the 19.3 acres to be occupied by the center, including retooling roadways and relocating athletic fields.

Despite claims by Obama representatives, the famed Jackson Park, designed by landscape architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux in 1893, will see major alterations even though the park was placed on the federal National Register of Historic Places in 1972. And preservationists say the Obama Center is destroying the carefully planned parklands across the city’s Lake Shore region.

The claim that the Center will not force the city, state, or federal governments to spend tax dollars on the complex is also coming up false.

According to the Wall Street Journal, taxpayers are now being asked for nearly two hundred million dollars for costs resulting from the Obama Center.

“Now comes news that Illinois taxpayers will put up at least $174 million for roadway and transit reconfigurations needed to accommodate the Obama Center. If you don’t live in Illinois, you may be smirking — but you’ll be footing the bill, too,” the Journal reported on August 10. “Eighty percent of such spending is generally reimbursed by the federal government, and Illinois officials confirmed to me that they expect to receive $139 million from Washington if they request it.”

Former Obama chief of staff and current embattled Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel thinks the $174 million in tax dollars to be spent on the center is “money well spent.”

Oddly, the city will not even enjoy rent money from the sprawling Obama Center because another sweetheart deal the city agreed to when it entered into the pact with the Obama Foundation maintains that the Center will pay only one dollar for the land. And that is one dollar only, in perpetuity–not per month or even per year, just one single dollar.

The one-dollar rent and the $174 million in taxpayer funds certainly do seem like great deals, indeed–but for Obama, not for the American people or the citizens of Chicago.

Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston.


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