NEWS

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November 22, 2020

Review of Obama Presidential Center Construction Plans Reaches Final Stages

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Greg Ross / The Chicago Maroon

On November 10, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) published a final Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) on its review of the Obama Presidential Center (OPC). The move signals that the FHWA’s review, which has identified the potential effects of the OPC’s construction on nearby historical landmarks and proposed solutions, is nearing completion.

The MOA represents three years of community and government concern over how the OPC’s construction will affect the surrounding historical sites, which include Jackson Park, the Midway Plaisance, and Chicago’s Park Boulevard System. The key stipulations of the agreement include the following:

- A Cultural Landscape Report (CLR) for Jackson Park, consisting of research on and proposals for the long-term upkeep of the park. According to the MOA, “the CLR will assemble and analyze pertinent historic documentation and will provide recommendations for the long-term management of Jackson Park based on significance, existing condition, and use taking into 

consideration all changes to Jackson Park that are proposed as part of [the OPC’s construction];”

- Synthesis of a plan for public programs to “commemorate and present the cultural and natural historical contributions of Jackson Park and its use by South Side residents.” The draft of the plan will be composed in partnership with local museums, schools, community groups, and universities;

- A Historic Structures Report that will inform the rehabilitation of Jackson Park’s English Stone Comfort Station. The station, located on the park’s western edge, was built in 1936;

- Conservation assessment and rehabilitation plan for the Statue of the Republic, located at the intersection of East Hayes Drive and South Richards Drive in Jackson Park. The statue is often referred to as the “Golde Lady;” 

- A design review for the eastern edge of the Midway Plaisance, including plans for new play features. This is required by the Urban Parks and Recreation Recovery Act of 1978 (UPARR), which mandates that the city replace any land in Jackson Park that is taken out of recreational use.

The MOA is awaiting the signatures of the Federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, the FHWA, and the Illinois State Historic Preservation Officer. The FHWA’s review is one of two major federal reviews of the OPC’s construction plans.

According to the Obama Foundation, the OPC, which is set to be built in Jackson Park, will be a “world-class museum and public gathering space that celebrates our nation’s first African American President and First Lady on the South Side of Chicago.” The center will include a library, playgrounds, and other public spaces. It is uncertain when construction will begin however; the foundation aims to finish construction in 2023.

The complete MOA can be found here.