TCLF Files Formal Objection to Effects Report on Obama Presidential Center
Publicly released by the City of Chicago on January 16, 2020, the Assessment of Effects to Historic Properties (AOE) evaluates the potential effects to historic properties from the construction of the Obama Presidential Center and other related actions, planned for Chicago's Olmsted-designed Jackson Park. The report was prepared for and endorsed by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the agency that is leading the Section 106 review pursuant to the National Historic Preservation Act.
The following points summarize most of TCLF’s objections, which are addressed in detail in the formal response.
• Contrary to the AOE, we believe that the undertaking will have an adverse effect on the Jackson Park Terrace Historic District.
• Contrary to the AOE, we believe that the planned “golf course consolidation/expansion project" in Jackson Park must be analyzed as a reasonably foreseeable action that when combined with the undertaking creates a cumulative effect.
• Contrary to the AOE, and in accordance with federal regulations codified in 36 CFR Part 800—Protection of Historic Properties, we believe that the described actions of the City of Chicago are subject to the National Historic Preservation Act’s requirements to consider avoidance, minimization, and mitigation of adverse effects to historic properties.
• Contrary to the AOE, with regard to several statements proffered in Section 5.0: Avoidance and Minimization of Effects, we believe that the unaltered cause of an adverse effect cannot rationally be regarded as a measure that avoids, minimizes, or mitigates the adverse effect.
TCLF also challenged the following statement in the AOE: “the City had two practical alternatives: (1) deny the [Obama] Foundation’s proposal and lose the opportunity to host the OPC, or (2) approve the Foundation’s proposal subject to development limits and obligations to preserve park uses and public access.”
As TCLF notes in its comments: “Because of its placement and its sweeping implications, the statement seems to be the foundational assumption for much of what follows it. We are, therefore, prompted to ask: Has the FHWA been given any documentation to support the statement, or can the FHWA point to any communication between the Obama Foundation and the City of Chicago that has indicated that the Foundation would withdraw the Obama Presidential Center from Chicago unless the city approved “the Foundation’s proposal subject to development limits and obligations to preserve park uses and public access”?”
TCLF then cited president Obama’s public statements about the inevitability of the Obama Presidential Center on the South Side:  “the fact of the matter was it had to be right here on the South Side of Chicago”; and  “I became president because of the South Side of Chicago … so we were going to have the presidential center on the South Side of Chicago.”
According to a cover letter from the FHWA, which accompanied the AOE, “FHWA will either consult with the party to resolve the disagreement, or request the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) review the finding of effect and provide its opinion. The FHWA will take into account the ACHP's opinion in reaching its final decision on the finding and make it available to all consulting parties and the public.”
Reaching agreement on the AOE is essential before moving to the next step of the Section 106 process, during which the FHWA, the National Park Service, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the City of Chicago will explore measures to avoid, minimize, or mitigate the adverse effects to historic properties.